wiki globe

Posts Tagged ‘spill’

US probe shares out ‘systemic’ blame for oil spill

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:12 am

A US panel has spread blame for the deadly Gulf of Mexico oil spill beyond BP to Halliburton and Transocean, accusing all three of “systemic” management failures that could happen again.

The presidential commission’s assessment was part of its final report on the deadly April blowout of BP’s Macondo well, which killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.

It said oil services giant Halliburton and offshore drilling group Transocean were also very much at fault in ignoring key warnings and failing to take the necessary precautions to avert the massive spill.

A dead sea turtle lies on a beach in Waveland, Mississippi at the height of the US Gulf oil spill

The blowout “was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources and the technical expertise to prevent,” read the advance chapter. The full report is due out next week.

Transocean owned the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon platform that sank in the accident. In October, Halliburton admitted skipping a key cement test before the blowout, but blamed BP for not testing the integrity of the job.

The root causes of the blowout were “systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur,” the report said.

“Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money).”

Saying it supported the presidential commission’s probe into the incident, BP stressed that preliminary findings concluded that “the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies.”

The beleaguered firm said it was working with regulators and the industry “to ensure that the lessons learned from Macondo lead to improvements in operations and contractor services in deepwater drilling.”

It cited launching a new division devoted to safety and operational risk that reports directly to the firm’s CEO Bob Dudley and will provide “independent oversight” of safety-related operational decisions.

The findings “only compound our sense of tragedy because we know now that the blowout of the Macondo well was avoidable,” said former Florida senator Bob Graham, the commission’s co-chair.

“This disaster likely would not have happened had the companies involved been guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first. And it likely would not have happened if the responsible governmental regulators had the capacity and will to demand world class safety standards.”

According to the report, the Macondo well blew out when a series of “separate risk factors, oversights and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards” designed to prevent such an event.

“But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure — a failure of management,” it added.

“Better management by BP, Halliburton and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate and address them.”

Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator William Reilly, another co-chair of the commission, pointed to a “system-wide problem.”

The seven-member panel was set up by US President Barack Obama and tasked with finding out what caused the accident.

Source: SGGP

US sues BP, eight others over Gulf oil spill

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 at 9:44 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States filed suit for the first time against BP and eight other companies for uncounted billions of dollars in damages from a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in US history.

The complaint was filed by the Justice Department with a federal court in New Orleans, where thousands of individuals and small businesses have already sued the oil giant.

AFP file – A photo taken in April 2010 shows fire boat crews battling the blazing remnants of the BP operated off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the complaint alleges that “violations of safety and operational regulations” caused the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which sent nearly five million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf.

“We intend to prove… that the defendants are therefore responsible under the Oil Pollution Act for government removal losses, economic losses, as well as environmental damages,” he said.

“We’re also seeking civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the unauthorized use of oil in the waters,” he added.

Holder went on to list a series of failures that led to the disaster.

He said necessary precautions weren’t taken to secure the well, the safest drilling technology was not used to monitor its condition, continuous surveillance was not maintained and safety equipment was faulty.

The defendants named in the suit were BP Exploration and Production Inc; Transocean Deepwater Inc; Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc; Transocean Holdings LLC; Anadarko Exploration and Production LP; Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; and QBE Underwriting Ltd/Lloyd’s syndicate 1036.

QBE/Lloyd’s, an insurer, was not being sued under the Clean Water Act and can be held liable only up to the amount of Transocean’s insurance policy coverage, the Justice Department said.

BP said in a statement that it would “answer the government?s allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with all government investigations and inquiries.”

The world’s third largest oil company has defended its response to the spill, which has included selling off assets around the world to raise 30 billion dollars to cover both clean-up and compensation costs.

It has estimated its exposure at nearly 40 billion dollars.

“Alone among the parties, BP has stepped up to pay for the clean-up of the oil, setting aside 20 billion dollars to pay all legitimate claims,” the company said.

“We took these steps before any legal determination of responsibility and will continue to fulfil our commitments in the Gulf as the legal process unfolds.”

BP owns 65 percent of the ruptured Macondo well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. owns a 25 percent share, and MOEX Offshore, a unit of Mitsui Oil Exploration Co, owns 10 percent. Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon rig itself.

Justice Department lawyers have been conducting parallel civil and criminal investigations since the fiery explosion, which killed 11 workers and toppled the giant rig into Gulf of Mexico.

The rig’s collapse ruptured underwater risers, unleashing a torrent of oil that fouled environmentally fragile Gulf coasts and disrupted local fishing and tourism industries for three months before it was sealed in September.

Among the losses listed in the US complaint were “hundreds of miles of coastal habitats, including salt marshes, sandy beaches, and mangroves; a variety of wildlife, including birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals.”

In the Gulf itself, the potential damage extended to “various biota, benthic communities, marine organisms, coral, fish, and water-column habitat,” it said.

And it said the spill resulted in lost opportunities for “fishing, swimming, beach-going, and viewing of birds and wildlife.”

Holder said the Justice Department would continue to investigate the disaster and ways of preventing future spills, adding that the legal action taken Wednesday “is not a final step.”

“As our investigations continue, we will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those responsible for this spill,” he said.

“The full extent of potential injuries, destruction, loss and loss of services is not yet fully known and may not be fully known for many years.”

Source: SGGP

Experts say most Gulf spill oil still in water

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2010 at 7:24 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Nearly 80 percent of the oil spilled from a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico is still in the gulf, US scientists have estimated, challenging a more optimistic assessment by the US government earlier in the month.

In its August 4 report, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration found that half the 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled by the April 20 blowout had been evaporated, burned, skimmed or dispersed.

A ship is seen close to the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill zone in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. AFP

A team of five scientists from the University of Georgia did their own analysis of the government data and came to a different conclusion.

“We just reanalyzed this report…and then we calculated how much oil is still likely to be out there and that is how we came up to 70 to 79 percent that must be out there,” said Charles Hopkinson, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia.

“One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and therefore, harmless,” he told AFP.

“The oil is still out there and it will likely take years to completely degrade. We are still far from a complete understanding of what its impacts are,” he said.

Source: SGGP

Alabama sues BP over oil spill

In Uncategorized on August 14, 2010 at 7:22 am

Alabama, Aug 13, 2010 (AFP) – The southern US state of Alabama has filed a lawsuit against BP and other companies linked to the oil spill “catastrophe” that soiled the Gulf of Mexico coastline, a state official said Friday.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, accuses British oil giant BP, Transocean, “and others responsible for the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe” of causing serious damage through negligence and failing to adhere to safety standards.

The amount of compensation Alabama is seeking will be determined in court, state Attorney General Troy King said in a statement.

“BP said that this was their disaster and they would accept responsibility for it. Yet thousands wait while their claims are backed up in the system,” King said.

“Based on BP’s broken promises, their history of saying one thing and doing another, and now, new information that they have been secretly working to gain a legal advantage, further delay (of legal action) can only further damage our people,” King said.

He accused the energy firm of “retaining all the best expert witnesses, not because they need their services, but so the experts will be unable to testify against BP.”

The sun rises over the beach August 13, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. AFP

Alabama is seeking compensation, among other things, for destruction of the state’s natural resources; economic losses resulting from destruction of state property; and for the loss of taxes revenue.

The state also wants money for cleanup response and rehabilitation costs, and wants punitive damages imposed on the companies.

“BP is now on notice, Alabama intends to hold you good to your word and to make you put our state back the way you found it,” King said.

BP said Thursday it had paid out 347 million dollars in claims since May 3, after receiving 148,000 claims.

It said it has yet to deny a single claim, though some 40,000 claims are still outstanding or awaiting adjustment.

The company, which has seen its reputation take a beating in the US over the oil spill, insists it is doing the best it can and has promised to pay all legitimate claims.

The Macondo well off the coast of Louisiana began leaking after a massive explosion ripped through the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig April 20, killing 11 workers and causing the platform to sink two days later.

An estimated 4.9 million barrels have leaked into the ocean — enough oil to fill 311 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The disaster is the biggest maritime spill on record.

The spill affected the coasts of the southern US states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, as well as parts of the Florida and Texas coastline.

Source: SGGP

BP spends 6.1 bln dollars on Gulf spill response: company

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2010 at 11:22 am

LONDON, Aug 9, 2010 (AFP) – British energy giant BP said Monday that it has spent a total of 6.1 billion dollars in response costs to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, days after plugging the damaged well with concrete.

“The cost of the response to date amounts to approximately 6.1 billion dollars (4.6 billion euros), including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, static kill and cementing, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid, and federal costs,” BP said in a statement.

An estimated 4.9 million barrels, more than 205 million gallons, spewed from BP’s ruptured well in the 87 days from the beginning of the disaster until the leak was finally capped on July 15, the US government has said.

A BP mobile claims office is seen on August 4, 2010 in Chalmette, Louisiana. AFP

The company revealed on Thursday that it had finished pumping cement into the damaged well after a five-hour operation.

“The MC252 well has been shut-in since July 15; there is currently no oil flowing into the Gulf,” the group said on Monday.

It added: “Following the completion of cementing operations on the MC252 well on August 5, pressure testing was performed which indicated there is an effective cement plug in the casing. BP believes the static kill and cementing procedures have been successful.”

Source: SGGP

100 days in, Gulf spill leaves ugly questions unanswered

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 at 7:18 am

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2010 (AFP) – The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster reached the 100-day mark Wednesday with hopes high that BP is finally on the verge of permanently sealing its ruptured Macondo well.

But years of legal wrangles and probes lie ahead and myriad questions remain about the long-term effects of the massive oil spill on wildlife, the environment and the livelihoods of Gulf residents.

Ships assist in clean up and containment near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill July 27, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.AFP

If BP needs a reminder of the long legal road ahead as it tries to rebuild its reputation, one will be provided on Thursday as lawyers at a session in Boise, Idaho set the stage for a potential trial of the century.

Proceedings will examine whether complaints from around 200 plaintiffs can be consolidated and give trial lawyers a test run of the arguments they will make during what could be years of legal action.

US officials were anxious to avoid being too optimistic ahead of next week’s crucial operations and cautioned that a mountain of work lay ahead to clean up oiled shorelines and pick up some 20 million feet (3,800 miles) of boom.

“I would characterize this as the first 100 days. There’s a lot of work in front of us,” said Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft, the on-scene coordinator. “We are not out of the woods yet, we still need a permanent kill.”

BP aims to start the “static kill” on Monday, pumping heavy drilling mud and cement down through the cap at the top of the well that has sealed it for the past two weeks.

Five days later a relief well should intercept the damaged well, allowing engineers to check the success of the “static kill” and cement in the area between the drill pipe and the well bore.

This so-called “bottom kill” should finally plug the reservoir once and for all, but it will not answer how the catastrophe was allowed to occur and who is responsible.

While the last surface patches of toxic crude biodegrade rapidly in the warm waters of the Gulf, the long-term impact of what is thought to be the biggest accidental oil spill ever may not be realized for decades.

As the focus shifts to the clean-up in the marshes and beaches of the Gulf coast, so it does to the US Justice Department investigation and state probes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a team has been established to examine whether the notoriously close ties between BP and federal regulators contributed to the April 20 disaster.

The “BP squad” will also probe rig operator Transocean and Halliburton, the oil services company which had finished cementing the well only 20 hours before the rig exploded, the Post reported.

BP announced Tuesday it would replace gaffe-prone British chief executive Tony Hayward with Bob Dudley, an American, in a bid to repair its tattered US reputation.

It also posted a quarterly loss of 16.9 billion dollars and set aside 32.2 billion dollars to pay spill costs, including a 20 billion dollar fund to pay compensation to the battered fishing, oil, and tourism industries.

Once the well is sealed, US spill chief Thad Allen plans to shift resources to focus on picking up boom, cleaning oiled shores and testing for any hidden underwater plumes.

To that end he has called a meeting on Thursday morning with parish presidents to discuss the redeployment of the army of local conscripts.

Sophisticated underwater operations involving fleets of robotic submarines at brain-crunching depths will make way for the less glamorous but equally complex work of Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Teams, SCATs for short.

They will sign off mile-by-mile on the 638 miles (1,027 kilometers) of Gulf Coast where oil has washed ashore.

The beaches should be relatively painless to mop up, but cleaning up the maze of marshes, where there is nothing to stand on and shallow-bottomed boats are needed to navigate the narrow channels, is a logistical nightmare.

Geologist Ed Owens, a world authority on protecting shorelines from oil spills contracted to BP, told AFP on Monday that the marshes should recover in months and the impact of the oil was “quite small.”

But other leading scientists have warned of a decades-long effect on marine life that could lead to a shift in the overall biological network in the Gulf of Mexico.

Source: SGGP

Indonesia demands compensation for Timor Sea spill

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2010 at 11:18 am

JAKARTA, July 22, 2010 (AFP) – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday demanded compensation for an oil spill off northwestern Australia that campaigners say destroyed fishermen’s livelihoods.

“Certainly we will carry out our responsibility to solve this problem. We’ll propose a claim to the company causing the oil spill while maintaining good diplomatic relations with the governments of Australia and Thailand,” he told a cabinet meeting.

“What’s clear is the company must give something as accountability for the incident,” he said, adding that Indonesians affected should “receive decent compensation”.

The Thai-operated West Atlas rig dumped thousands of barrels of oil into the Timor Sea between the Indonesian archipelago and Australia after a leak began in August last year.

Yudhoyono did not specify how much compensation Indonesia would seek from the rig, which is operated by PTTEP Australasia.

But local non-governmental group the West Timor Care Foundation, which supports poor fishermen in eastern Indonesia, has called for a figure of around 15 billion dollars.

Environmental group WWF says more than 400,000 litres (over 105,000 gallons) of oil have been spilt, generating a slick spanning 10,000-25,000 square kilometres (up to 9,650 square miles).

The West Timor Care Foundation estimates the spill as even larger and says it has affected the livelihoods of some 18,000 fishermen.

“Fish, dolphins and sea turtles were killed and the pollution posed health problems to the community. We don’t know how long it will take to heal the ecosystem,” said the group’s head Ferdi Tanoni.

WWF earlier said the spill was “one of Australia’s biggest environmental disasters”.

Source: SGGP

Tar balls hit Texas as oil spill cost soars

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – Tar balls from the Gulf of Mexico spill have turned up on the Texas coast, expanding the oil slick’s impact to all five Gulf states, officials said late Monday, as BP’s disaster costs soared above three billion dollars.

Meanwhile a giant Taiwanese ship deployed to boost the clean-up remained in testing, with initial results inconclusive because of choppy waters, but bad weather on the horizon threatened to further disrupt clean-up efforts.

Oil is cleaned off of a laughing gull at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center July 5, 2010 in Buras, Louisiana. AFP

The A Whale tanker cruised near the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but Bob Grantham, a spokesman for the super-skimmer’s owner, TMT Shipping, said results were “inconclusive in light of the rough sea state we are encountering.”

Grantham said the company, working with the US Coast Guard, would continue testing the ship “to make operational and technological adjustments” for the supertanker.

The ship is believed to be able to suck up to 500,000 barrels (21 million gallons) of oily water a day through its “jaws,” a series of vents on the side of the ship.

By comparison, more than 500 smaller vessels in 10 weeks have only managed to collect some 31.3 million gallons of oil-water mix between them.

The tar balls found in the surf in Galveston, Texas, were tested and determined to be from the BP oil spill. But officials stressed that it was not clear if they drifted hundreds of miles from the site of the well that ruptured April 20, triggering the disaster, or if they fell or leaked from a ship carrying collected oil to Texas for processing.

“The testing found that the oil was lightly weathered, raising doubts that the oil traversed the Gulf from the spill source,” officials of a joint BP-US government response team said in a statement.

More than 492 miles (792 kilometers) of US shoreline across the five Gulf states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and now Texas — have now been oiled by the disaster.

Meanwhile, oil sheen and tar balls were spotted Monday near the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, prompting response crews to unfurl 600 feet (200 meters) of boom to prevent more oil from sullying the estuary.

Cleanup operations were scheduled to resume Tuesday, officials said.

BP said its latest estimate showed the costs to the British energy firm had risen in the past week.

“The cost of the response to date amounts to approximately 3.12 billion dollars, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid, and federal costs,” BP said.

BP’s share price has collapsed more than 50 percent since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig it leased sank on April 22, two days after a blast that killed 11 workers.

After intense pressure from President Barack Obama over the worst ever US environmental disaster, BP agreed last month to suspend its shareholder dividend and create a 20-billion-dollar fund for costs arising from the spill.

BP is also selling non-core assets to raise 10 billion dollars, while international ratings agencies have downgraded the company’s credit worthiness.

Nearly a week after Hurricane Alex swept through the region, bad weather continued to hamper the clean-up, keeping smaller skimming vessels tied up in harbors in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Skimming and other operations have resumed in calmer seas off Louisiana.

But the National Hurricane Center warned early Tuesday that a new low-pressure system over the Yucatan peninsula and the Caribbean Sea and heading into the Gulf of Mexico had a 30-percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours.

Although there was no direct hit from Alex, this year’s first major Atlantic storm provided a reminder of the urgent need to clean up an oil disaster surpassed only by Iraqi troops’ deliberate release of crude in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.

The US Navy’s MZ-3A Airship was expected to reach the Gulf Coast Tuesday to help detect oil, direct skimming vessels and search for wildlife threatened by the thick brown-orange mess.

The fractured pipe that connected the BP-leased platform to the well a mile (1,600 meters) down on the seafloor has now spewed somewhere between two and four million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

The firm’s current containment systems can only capture or flare some 25,000 barrels of oil a day, a number set to double when a third vessel is expected to be in place on Thursday.

It will likely be mid-August at the earliest before the ruptured well is permanently capped by injecting mud and cement with the aid of relief wells.

Source: SGGP

Britain works on crisis plan in case spill sinks BP: report

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2010 at 12:13 pm

LONDON, July 6, 2010 (AFP) – Britain is working on crisis action in case energy giant BP is ruined by the costs of coping with its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, The Times reported on Tuesday without citing its sources.

The talks, with officials from the British government’s Department for Business and the Treasury, show mounting concern that the company could collapse, the report said.

(FILES) In a file picture taken on June 15, 2010 a brown pelican covered with oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, swims at Sandy Point in the Gulf of Mexico, near Venice, Louisiana. AFP

The Treasury and the Department for Business were unavailable for comment on the newspaper report.

“It is not clear how bad this will get, but the government needs to be prepared for any eventuality,” said a person familiar with the talks cited by The Times.

The daily paper added that British Prime Minister David Cameron and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne would discuss BP’s future with US government officials in a trip to Washington later this month on July 20.

An insider also told the newspaper that the question has been raised as to whether, under extreme circumstances, the government should intervene to save BP.

That would spark a rescue similar to the British banking sector bailouts at the height of the global financial crisis.

On Monday, BP revealed that its costs over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have soared above three billion dollars for the first time.

The company has now spent about 3.12 billion dollars on the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid and federal costs.

The latest estimate was far higher than the 2.65 billion dollars given by the energy firm on Monday of the previous week.

BP’s share price has collapsed more than 50 percent since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig it leased sank on April 22, two days after a blast that killed 11 workers.

Source: SGGP

US oil spill clean-up resumes in some areas

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Clean-up work gathered speed in some areas of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill Sunday, but heavy swells kept many boats docked, halting efforts to fight the ecological disaster.

A Taiwanese mega-skimmer dubbed the “A Whale” was in position near the site of the leak and set to undergo 48 hours of “proof of concept” testing, Coast Guard spokeswoman Ayla Kelley told AFP.

The 300-yard (275-meter) long tanker can vacuum up 21 million gallons of oily water a day, separating oil from water and spitting the seawater back out.

Small skimming boats that have been patrolling the Gulf for the past 10 weeks have only collected 28.2 million gallons of oily water to date, and rough weather made seas off Louisiana too choppy for them to even go out Saturday.

Workers toss bags full of sand contaminated with oil into a dumpster in Louisiana

Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker at a Houma, Louisiana information center said crews were resetting protective booms along fragile coastal areas, but skimming and controlled burns of spilled crude had been halted.

However, around the Chandeleur Islands, a chain of uninhabited barrier islands and wildlife refuge at Louisiana’s easternmost point, boom and skimming operations resumed Friday, said a representative of Admiral Thad Allen, the top official overseeing the spill response.

“These are the most environmentally sensitive areas. The good news is that we saw only light oil and there were hundreds of boats working in the area resetting boom and skimming,” rear admiral Paul Zunkunft told reporters after he flew over the islands.

“The areas are critical to defend because they are home to turtles, shrimp and other wildlife,” Zukunft said.

Despite containment efforts, he warned: “We are not out of the woods yet.”

On Louisiana’s Grand Isle, cleanup crews darted in and out of makeshift shelters to fan out along oil-soiled beaches between thunderstorms, in the wake of the first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season which sent oil faster and further inland, damaging the island’s fragile ecosystems.

“Usually it takes about two weeks for oil to reach the shoreline,” explained Anne Marie Gorden, Public Affairs Specialist with the Coast Guard. “But this is fresh oil,” she added, pointing to battered and oil-soaked rows of sandbags lining Fourchon Beach.

An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day has gushed from the ruptured well since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank on April 22, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana.

A containment system has captured about 557,000 barrels of oil, but rough seas delayed the deployment of a third vessel that could boost capacity from 25,000 barrels to 53,000 barrels a day.

That means an estimated 1.9 to 3.6 million barrels — or 79.5 to 153 million gallons — of oil has now gushed into the Gulf.

Using the high end of that estimate, the spill has now surpassed the 1979 Ixtoc blowout, which took nine months to cap and dumped an estimated 3.3 million barrels (140,000 million gallons) into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is topped only by the deliberate release of six to eight million barrels of crude by Iraqi troops who destroyed tankers and oil terminals and set wells ablaze in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.

And it will likely be mid-August at the earliest before the Gulf well is permanently capped by injecting mud and cement with the aid of relief wells.

Skimmers had been collecting about 12,000 barrels of oil a day before they were sent back to port after Hurricane Alex whipped up waves earlier this week, while about 8,000 barrels of oil was being burned off the surface.

But the spill has so far oiled at least 450 miles (725 kilometers) of US shorelines, 74 days into the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Admiral Allen said he hoped to have the third containment vessel, the Helix Producer, in place by Wednesday.

Once the Producer is working, officials will also have a better sense of just how much crude is leaking, “just by the visual evidence of how much oil is actually coming out around that cap,” Allen said.

They will then have to decide if the existing system should stay in place, or if it would be best to undergo a risky procedure to replace the cap with another system capable of capturing up to 80,000 barrels of oil a day.

“The decision window associated with that would be sometime in the next, I would say, seven to 10 days,” Allen said in a conference call Friday.

In addition to boosting capacity, the new system would also greatly reduce the amount of time oil could gush freely into the sea if crews had to evacuate due to a bad storm.

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson was headed to Pensacola, Florida to oversee coastal clean-up operations in the state, where tourist draws Miami and the Florida Keys face the likelihood of fouled beaches.

Source: SGGP