Some oil spill events on Monday, June 21, 2010

Published 11:05 pm Monday, June 21, 2010

A summary of events on Monday, June 21, Day 62 of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with the April 20 explosion and fire on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well.


Companies that ferry people and supplies to offshore oil rigs asked a federal judge Monday to lift a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling projects imposed in the aftermath of the massive Gulf spill. After hearing two hours of arguments, Judge Martin Feldman said he will decide by Wednesday whether to overturn the ban imposed by President Barack Obama’s administration after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion off the Louisiana coast.


The Obama administration has sent another multimillion-dollar bill to BP and other parties being held responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The latest bill, the third in the nine weeks since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig collapsed, is for $51.4 million. The White House said in a statement Monday night that BP and others have already paid the first two bills, totaling nearly $71 million.


A former federal prosecutor took over Monday as director of a new government agency that oversees offshore drilling and other oil and gas development. Michael R. Bromwich, 56, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, will lead a reorganization of the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed an order renaming the agency the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The agency, which both regulates the oil and gas industry and collects billions in royalties from it, will be known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy or BOE for short, Salazar said.


Attorneys general in 11 Atlantic Coast states asked BP PLC for assurances that legitimate claims from their residents will be paid if oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill reaches their shores. The prosecutors also said in a letter sent Monday that they want BP to preserve all documents related to the spill and response. The documents could be needed if any of the states were to sue.


The Democratic National Committee has unveiled a new television ad that calls Republicans oil company loyalists who would rather apologize to BP than hold it accountable for the massive spill in the Gulf. The 30-second ad started running Monday on national and Washington cable stations. It includes a clip of Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas apologizing to BP for what he called a $20 billion “shakedown.” Company executives had met with President Barack Obama and agreed to a compensation fund for those affected by the spill. Barton later took back the apology.


BP chief executive Tony Hayward canceled his appearance at a London oil conference on Tuesday, citing his commitment to the Gulf of Mexico relief effort. The announcement Monday that Hayward will skip Tuesday’s session of the World National Oil Companies Congress follows stinging criticism of Hayward’s weekend outing to the Isle of Wight to see his boat compete in a high-profile English yacht race.


BP has spent $2 billion in two months of fighting its Gulf of Mexico oil spill and compensating victims, with no end in sight to the disaster or the price tag. The British oil giant released its latest tally of response costs Monday, including $105 million paid out so far to 32,000 claimants. The figure does not include a $20 billion fund that BP PLC last week agreed to set up to continue compensating Gulf residents and businesses. Scores of lawsuits are piling up against BP for the April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers and the ensuing oil spill that has yet to be capped. Shares of BP, which have lost about half their value since the rig Deepwater Horizon burned and sank off the Louisiana coast, were down nearly 5 percent Monday in London trading at $5.06.


The man President Barack Obama picked to run the $20 billion damage fund said many people are in “desperate financial straits” and need immediate relief. “Do not underestimate the emotionalism and the frustration and the anger of people in the Gulf uncertain of their financial future,” Kenneth Feinberg told interviewers Monday. “It’s very pronounced. I witnessed it firsthand last week.” Feinberg, who ran the victims claim fund set up in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said he is determined to speed up payment of claims.


The best hope of ending the disaster rests on teams drilling two relief wells meant to stop the seafloor oil gusher, a daunting task: Their drills have to hit a target roughly the size of a salad plate about three miles below the water’s surface. If the workers aboard Transocean’s Development Driller II or its sister rig DDIII miss or move too slowly, oil will keep pouring into the sea. As much as 125 million gallons of oil has gushed into the Gulf. No one on the rig has done this before because these deep sea interventions are so rare. But rig workers brushed off worries and the pressure to succeed. “It’s really not a tough thing to do,” says Mickey Fruge, the wellsite leader aboard the DDII for BP, which was leasing the rig that blew up and is responsible for stopping the oil.


Overwhelmed and saddened by the gargantuan size of the Gulf oil spill? A little mathematical context to the spill size can put the environmental catastrophe in perspective. Viewing it through some lenses, it isn’t that huge. The Mississippi River pours as much water into the Gulf of Mexico in 38 seconds as the BP oil leak has done in two months. On a more human scale, the spill seems more daunting. Take the average-sized living room. The amount of oil spilled would fill 9,200 of them.


Health officials say there seems to be little reason to worry about the spill’s health effects at this point. But some note that health effects months or years from now remain a question mark, particularly for the workers who are in the thick of it, cleaning up oil from the BP spill in the Gulf. Public health officials and scientists will take up the topic at a two-day meeting beginning Tuesday in New Orleans, organized by the Institute of Medicine at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services. The group will also talk about how best to watch for any potential problems. HHS has already set aside $10 million to study cleanup workers and Gulf residents over time.