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May 24, 2010

Government slams BP for missed deadlines on spill

VENICE, La/HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government threatened on Sunday to remove BP from efforts to seal a blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico if it doesn’t do enough to stop the leak, though it acknowledged only the company and the oil industry have the needed know-how.

The Coast Guard said that over 65 miles of Gulf Coast has experienced “shoreline impact” from the spill and less than half of it could be cleaned up relatively quickly, underscoring the growing ecological toll of the disaster.

May 24, 2010

U.S. government slams BP for missed deadlines on spill

VENICE, La/HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government threatened on Sunday to remove BP from efforts to seal a blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico if it doesn’t do enough to stop the leak, though it acknowledged only the company and the oil industry have the needed know-how.

The Coast Guard said that over 65 miles (110 kms) of Gulf Coast has experienced “shoreline impact” from the spill and less than half of it could be cleaned up relatively quickly, underscoring the growing ecological toll of the disaster.

May 24, 2010

Louisiana hits BP and government for slow oil response

VENICE, La (Reuters) – Louisiana’s governor on Sunday blasted energy giant BP and the federal government for failing to act fast enough to protect the state’s coastlines from a massive undersea oil leak.

The U.S. Coast Guard and BP were slow to make decisions and delayed supplying necessary clean-up equipment even as oil washes onto the state’s fragile marshland, Governor Bobby Jindal said.

May 24, 2010

Louisiana hits BP, US govt for slow oil response

VENICE, La, May 23 (Reuters) – Louisiana’s governor on Sunday blasted energy giant BP <BP.L> and the federal government for failing to act fast enough to protect the state’s coastlines from a massive undersea oil leak.

The U.S. Coast Guard and BP were slow to make decisions and delayed supplying necessary clean-up equipment even as oil washes onto the state’s fragile marshland, Governor Bobby Jindal said.

"It is clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here: boom, skimmers, vacuums, jack-up barges are all in short supply," Jindal told a news conference in Venice.

"Oil sits and waits for clean-up and every day that it waits for clean-up more and more marsh dies," said Jindal, whose words were echoed by a number of local officials.

Jindal said he was "frustrated" by the slow pace and said the delays were "unacceptable." He called for the Coast Guard to delegate more authority to local leaders to protect their own parishes.

Oil from a blown-out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico has been gushing into the sea for over a month. Jindal said he had been told a new BP plan to seal the well would be implemented on Wednesday.

Already, oil had tarred 65 miles (100 km) of the state’s coast, he said.

In one example of delay, parish presidents had put in an urgent request to the Coast Guard on May 3 for 5 million feet (1.5 million metres) of hard boom to stop oil before it hits the coast but so far only around 800,000 feet (240,000 metres) had been supplied, Jindal said.

He also raised the pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to grant permission for the construction of a series of sand levees and said he was "passionate" about the issue.

"Silence on this plan is the equivalent of saying: ‘we will just clean it (oil) out of the wetlands,’" he said, arguing that the dangers of inaction were far greater than possible risks of associated with construction.

"BP is responsible for paying for this but they should not have veto authority over the dredging plan or any of the other plans that are being proposed by the parish or by the state," he said.

State and local leaders want to dredge sand from the sea floor and erect up to 80 miles (130 km) of levees, which reinforce, extend and in some cases join barrier islands to impede the progress of oil into the marshlands.

Experts on the coast including conservationists and academics have deep doubts about the plan, arguing it would take too long to implement and could alter the Mississippi River delta’s balance between fresh and salt water.

(Editing by Eric Beech)




May 23, 2010

U.S. says must rely on BP to stop oil;Iran offers help

By Matthew Bigg

VENICE, La. (Reuters) – The U.S. government is forced to rely on BP and the private oil sector to try to plug the gushing Gulf of Mexico well because only they have the technical know-how to stop the spill at those depths, the U.S. Coast Guard chief said on Sunday.

Admiral Thad Allen, who heads the oil spill response operation, also said he trusted BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward at a time when U.S. government and public criticism of the company and its executives over the spill is mounting daily.

May 23, 2010

US environment chief to visit Gulf, spill spreads

, May 23 (Reuters) – The top U.S. environmental official was to visit the Gulf Coast on Sunday as energy giant BP Plc <BP.L> scrambled to contain a widening oil spill.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson planned to return to the Gulf to monitor the EPA’s response, while Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was to travel to the BP Command Center in Houston to get an update from the federal science team working on the problem.

The two Cabinet members’ missions underscore the rising political and economic stakes for the Obama administration in dealing with the environmental disaster, which grows worse as oil gushes from a ruptured well on the sea floor.

Salazar was also to address the media the day after U.S. President Barack Obama blamed the spill on "a breakdown of responsibility" at BP. Obama also unveiled a commission to investigate the disaster.

The Democratic president, in his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, said offshore drilling could go forward only if there were assurances that such accidents would not happen again.

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TAKE A LOOK on the spill [ID:nSPILL]

INSIDER TV: link.reuters.com/wuw64k

Graphic: link.reuters.com/ken64k

Breakingviews column [ID:nLDE64C1D1]

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The spill has raised major questions about Obama’s earlier proposal to expand offshore drilling as part of strategy to win Republican support for climate change legislation.

Analysts say mounting ecological and economic damage could also become a political liability for Obama before November’s congressional elections.

POLITICAL PRESSURE

While also promising to hold Washington accountable for proper oversight of the industry, Obama ramped up pressure on companies linked to the spill: BP, Halliburton <HAL.N> and Transocean Ltd <RIG.N>

"First and foremost, what led to this disaster was a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton," Obama said in his toughest remarks yet on companies linked to the spill.

"And we will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable," he said.

BP stocks have taken a beating in the markets in the month since the well blowout and rig explosion that killed 11 workers and touched off the spill. Its share price shed another 4 percent on Friday in London, extending recent sharp losses.

Sheets of rust-colored heavy oil are clogging fragile marshlands on the fringes of the Mississippi Delta, damaging fishing grounds and wildlife.

Many believe it has already become the worst U.S. oil spill, eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska.

In his executive order announcing former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and and former EPA chief William Reilly would co-chair the commission, Obama also made his first reference to the possibility of a criminal probe.

BP made no immediate comment on Obama’s suggestion that it was to blame for the deep-sea disaster. But the company’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, said he welcomed the establishment of the commission and pledged to work with its co-chairmen.

BP and the EPA are locking horns over the dispersants the company is using to try to contain the spill.

The spill has hurt fishermen because federal authorities have closed a wide slew of Gulf waters to fishing. Wildlife and migrating birds have also suffered.

BP on Friday revised downward an earlier estimate that one of its containment solutions, a 1-mile (1.6 km)-long siphon tube inserted into the larger of two seabed leaks, was catching 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 litres) of oil per day.

Its latest figures show 2,200 barrels a day.

The company’s next planned step is a "top kill" — pumping heavy fluids and then cement into the gushing well to plug it.

Many scientists dismiss an original 5,000 bpd estimate of the total leaking oil — often defended by BP executives — as ridiculously low and say it could be 70,000 barrels (2.9 million gallons/11 million litres) per day or more. (Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Doina Chiacu)



May 23, 2010

Obama blames Gulf oil spill on “breakdown” at BP

WASHINGTON/VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Saturday blamed the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill on “a breakdown of responsibility” at energy giant BP Plc as he unveiled a commission to investigate the disaster.

Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, also said offshore oil drilling could only go forward if there were assurances that such accidents would not happen again.

May 22, 2010

Experts say plan to keep oil off Louisiana coast is flawed

VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) – Louisiana authorities are desperate to start building sand levees to keep a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill from swamping their coast, but experts have serious doubts about the $350-million project.

The plan would reinforce and extend barrier islands in the Gulf by taking sand from the sea floor and placing it to form walls extending around 40 miles on each side of the Mississippi River, state and local leaders said.

May 22, 2010

Plan to keep oil off Louisiana coast flawed-experts

, May 22 (Reuters) – Louisiana authorities are desperate to start building sand levees to keep a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill from swamping their coast, but experts have serious doubts about the $350-million project.

The plan would reinforce and extend barrier islands in the Gulf by taking sand from the sea floor and placing it to form walls extending around 40 miles (64 km) on each side of the Mississippi River, state and local leaders said.

The resulting berms — which are narrow ledges or shelves — would then snag oil gushing from the uncapped BP Plc <BP.L> well before it entered into the coast’s fragile wetlands, where it could do great harm to fishing grounds and wildlife.

Scientists, environmentalists, engineers and other experts who have studied the Gulf coast said the plan could not be implemented fast enough to stop the encroaching oil from the uncapped well.

"There are two major problems: where we would find the sand? How would we mobilize in time to make this effective?" said Robert Dalrymple, professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Some experts also complained of being excluded from the Louisiana plan and said it was being conducted hastily.

"The scientific community has been ostracized by the way the whole thing has been approached," said Gregory Stone, professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University.

"I applaud the concept. My concern is that we are doing this haphazardly and it comes around and bites us and that has longer term implications," said Stone, who said sandbags and protective booms would make a better stopgap measure.

A little over a month after the well blowout and rig explosion that killed 11 workers, sheets of rust-colored heavy oil have already come ashore in dozens of places along Louisiana’s coast and in Alabama and Mississippi.

Fears that more is on its way reinforces the state’s view that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should immediately grant permission for the plan to start, Governor Bobby Jindal said.

"There is no reason for delay. Every day that goes by without this permit being issued, without these dredgers being out there, is another day we are losing in terms of fighting this oil off of our shores," he said earlier this week.

The U.S. Coast Guard would build the levees and London-based BP would be made to fund it, said Jindal, adding that dredgers were being prepositioned, surveys being conducted and water sampling already was under way.

Given the pressure on various governments to respond decisively to the political storm the spill has provoked, it appears that it will be difficult to reject Jindal’s appeal, especially when he is backed by local officials.

The Corps said in a statement on Friday it "understood the importance and significance of this emergency permit request" and was treating it as a top priority, soliciting comments from other agencies as required by law.

DOUBTS

Experts in Louisiana said the plan puts them in a bind: reinforcing barriers such as the Chandeleur Islands is a long-term goal of coastal restoration and it would not be right to express doubts at a time when an environmental peril looms.

But they still have reservations:

* The berms could restrict the flow of Gulf water into the Delta, but too little is known about how that might impact the region’s ecology.

* The new levees would be vulnerable to tropical storms. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 washed away 80 percent of the Chandeleur Islands, a barrier chain in the Gulf, said Abby Sallenger, an oceanographer at the U.S. Geological Survey.

* The massive works project could threaten marine life such as sea turtles.

* The state has made insufficient use of the vast array of coastal research and the models used to compute the impact of projected man-made interventions to protect it from erosion.

State leaders say levees could be erected in a few days to join some barrier islands, increasing protection — and any protection is better than none.

But completing comparable projects in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey has taken years and required many millions of cubic feet of sand, Dalrymple said.

Given the complexity of the Delta marshlands, oil would likely get in anyway.

"There’s no real way of keeping it (oil) out of the marshes using any kind of barrier except very locally in quiescent bayous," said Paul Kemp, director of the National Audubon Society’s Gulf Coast Initiative.

"There is a lot of consternation and part of it is that we know so little about this plan and what do know shows a lack of thought," Kemp said.

(Editing by Paul Simao)





May 22, 2010

BP struggles to curb oil spill; criticism mounts

, May 22 (Reuters) – Energy giant BP Plc scrambled to contain a month-old seabed well leak billowing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday as anger mounted among affected residents and political leaders in Washington.

A month after the well blowout and rig explosion that killed 11 workers, sheets of rust-colored heavy oil are starting to clog fragile marshlands on the fringes of the Mississippi Delta, damaging fishing grounds and wildlife.

"To me from the very beginning with BP it was nothing but public relations," said Roger Halphen, a south Louisiana school teacher who has worked both in the oil industry and as a commercial fisherman.

"It’s just a disaster. Everybody was sleeping on this and now all of a sudden here it is," he said of oil washing up on the coast.

BP’s battered reputation has been reflected in its share price which lost more than 4 percent in London on Friday, extending recent sharp losses.

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TAKE A LOOK on the spill [ID:nSPILL]

INSIDER TV: link.reuters.com/wuw64k

Graphic: link.reuters.com/ken64k

Breakingviews column [ID:nLDE64C1D1]

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U.S. lawmakers and scientists have accused BP <BP.L> <BP.N> of trying to conceal what many believe is already the worst U.S. oil spill, eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska. It represents a potential environmental and economic catastrophe for the U.S. Gulf coast.

The London-based energy giant, facing growing federal government and public frustration and allegations of a coverup, said its engineers were working with U.S. government scientists to determine the size of the leak, even as they fought to control the gushing crude with uncertain solutions.

It also reiterated on Friday that it was making an effort to be transparent about the unfolding situation.

"We are committed to providing the American people with the information they need to understand the environmental impact from the spill and the response steps that have been taken," BP’s Chief Executive Tony Hayward said in a statement.

"We share with you a strong commitment to transparency. BP is working hand-in-hand with federal, state and local governments to gather data on the seabed and in the water, and to incorporate those learnings so that we can continually improve the effectiveness of our response efforts," he said.

President Barack Obama’s administration has kept up the pressure on BP. Obama is naming former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and former Environmental Protection Agency chief William Reilly to co-chair a bipartisan commission to investigate the of spill, a White House official said on Friday.

The panel is patterned after past commissions that have probed incidents such as the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

BP’s next planned step is a "top kill" — pumping heavy fluids and then cement into the gushing well to plug it. That operation could start next week, perhaps on Tuesday, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.

CONFUSION ABOUT LEAK

Adding to the confusion, BP revised downward on Friday an estimate from Thursday that one of its containment solutions — a 1-mile (1.6 km)-long siphon tube inserted into the larger of two seabed leaks — was capturing 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 litres) of oil per day.

A BP spokesman said the amount of crude oil it sucked from the leak fell to 2,200 barrels (92,400 gallons/350,000 litres) a day in the 24-hour period ended at midnight on Thursday.

"The rate fluctuates quite widely on this tool," Suttles told reporters at a briefing in Robert, Louisiana.

Many scientists dismiss an original 5,000 bpd estimate of the total leaking oil — often defended by BP executives — as ridiculously low and say it could be as high as 70,000 barrels (2.9 million gallons/11 million litres) per day or more.

"There’s a huge amount of uncertainty around that number and it could have a fairly wide range," Suttles said.

A federal panel will release its estimate of the actual flow rate as early as next week, a Coast Guard official said.

Scientists fear parts of the huge fragmented surface slick will be sucked to the Florida Keys and Cuba by ocean currents. (Writing by Ed Stoddard; editing by Mohammad Zargham)