Oil Watch: BP caps oil well, optimism grows hourly
Day 86, the leak is stopped
Although the leak has been stopped and even if no oil escapes for 48 hours, the flow of oil and gas has not been stopped permanently. If the pressure within the cap on top is low, it may mean that oil is leaking out further down the well.
The U.S. government’s incident commander, Admiral Thad Allen, said even if it was successful, the well would be reopened and oil capture by ships on the surface would restart while a seismic test was done. He emphasized that the option of shutting the well was a “side benefit” of the new capping stack.
Adm. Allen said the priority has always been to increase the amount of oil being captured and piped to the surface. Whatever happens will be a temporary solution until a relief well can be used to permanently kill the original well with mud and cement.
The U.S. government recently announced that BP will be required to pay royalties for oil and gas collected from its blown-out deep sea well in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has collected roughly 34.3 million gallons of oil and natural gas since May. The company also has sold some of the oil, which the government says should be subject to an 18.75 percent royalty. The Interior Department’s regulation and enforcement office sent the British oil giant a letter Thursday saying that royalty payments are required immediately.
However, work on both of the relief wells is has been suspended because of the integrity test. One of the relief wells is within five feet horizontally and 100 feet vertically of intersecting.
The pressure test was twice delayed before starting Thursday, once while additional checks were put in place to ease fears that it could make the leak worse, and once on Wednesday by a piece of leaking equipment.
Access to site expanded
The Coast Guard has revised rules limiting access around the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup and boom operations, which gives members of the news media access within a 65-foot “safety zone,” if they carry proper credentials.
The “safety zone” regulations were put in place two weeks ago, preventing anyone from getting within 65 feet of boom or other cleanup operations in marshes or on beaches. Violators could face a civil penalty of up to $40,000, and the crime could be classified as a Class D felony.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, media had to contact the Coast Guard or other response officials to gain access within the safety zone.
Sea turtles and marine mammals
Federal officials reported last month that, based on one research trip, oxygen levels didn’t appear to have fallen to dangerous levels.
Of the 658 turtles verified from April 30 to July 12, a total of 457 stranded turtles were found dead and 58 were stranded alive. Four of the stranded turtles subsequently died. Eleven live stranded turtles were released, and 43 live stranded turtles are being cared for at rehabilitation centers.
From April 30 to July 12, 63 stranded dolphins have been verified in the designated spill area; five were live strandings, three of which died shortly after, one was released and one is in rehabilitation. Fifty-seven dolphins were found stranded dead.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is has joined the effort to save wildlife from the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The first group of hatchlings from endangered sea turtle eggs brought from beaches along the northern U.S. Gulf Coast was released into the Atlantic Ocean off Kennedy’s central Florida coast July 11. Twenty-two Kemp’s Ridley turtles were set free on a Kennedy Space Center beach, part of the Canaveral National Seashore.
The release is part of an environmental endeavor by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Park Service, NOAA, FedEx and conservationists to help minimize the risk to this year’s sea turtle hatchlings. During the next several months, an anticipated 700 nests that were laid on Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches will be transported to Kennedy for release.
As part of the Deepwater Horizon Response, six brown pelicans, four laughing gulls and one common tern also were released at Kennedy June 6.
A U.S. House committee passed a ban on future BP leases. Under the legislation passed Wednesday by the Committee on Natural Resources, BP would be barred from getting new offshore oil and gas exploration leases for seven years.
The Committee on Natural Resources voted to pass an amendment by Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, which would prevent BP and other companies from getting new leases unless they pass safety and environmental requirements.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will look into a request by four senators to investigate allegations that BP lobbied for the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi while attempting to finalize an oil deal with Libya.
As reported in the New York Times, BP confirmed that it had lobbied the British government to conclude a prisoner-transfer agreement that the Libyan government wanted to secure for the release of the only person ever convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing over Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
In other news, commercial fishermen, waterfront property owners and oil industry workers who have lost jobs because of the oil spill yesterday sued 17 companies whose fireboats responded to the explosion. The rig was still attached to the subsea well when it sank two days later. The plaintiffs claim the fireboats violated industry standard procedures that warn against using water cannons to attack pressurized oil fires aboard marine vessels. (Robin v. Seacor Marine LLC, 2:10-cv-01986, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans.)
Florida Wildlife Federation and Gulf Restoration Network filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Environmental Protection Agency, demanding the government release more details about the makeup of the dispersants.
BP said as of July 12 almost 105,000 claims have been submitted and more than 52,000 payments have been made totaling almost $165 million. It has spent $3.5 billion to contend with issues related to its oil spill. Those costs include the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid and federal costs. The figure does not include the $20 billion escrow fund the company agreed to with the federal government.
BP’s use of chemicals to disperse the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is coming under scrutiny as environmentalists head to court to seek more information about potential health hazards. A Senate panel hearing on the issue was held yesterday.
The company has used at least 1.8 million gallons of dispersants on the Gulf’s surface and 5,000 feet deep at the source of the leak. Under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, chemical manufacturers are required to submit health and safety studies to the Environmental Protection Agency. Other federal law requires manufacturers of the oil dispersants to submit data on the toxicity and effectiveness of the dispersants.
Earthjustice (www.earthjustice.org) reported its recent court to represent the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation to get that information.
While the EPA has disclosed the secret ingredients of the two chemical dispersants, the agency has not released the health and safety studies. The lawsuit also seeks to uncover the make-up of other chemical dispersants approved for use by the EPA on oil spills.
Critics of the dispersants believe BP intended to hide the extent of the disaster by sinking the oil in the water column rather than allowing it to accumulate on the water’s surface. Dispersant defenders say sinking the oil prevents it from washing up on shores or marshes.