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Old 05-09-2010, 12:57 PM
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(CNN) -- Companies involved in the sinking of the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon made "some very major mistakes," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday after meeting with executives from the oil company BP.
Salazar would not elaborate, telling reporters in Houston, Texas, that the cause remains under investigation. But he said the failure of the rig's blowout preventer -- a critical piece of equipment designed to shut off the flow of oil in an emergency -- was "a huge malfunction" that has left oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

"The investigation will lead to conclusions about what exactly happened, but it didn't work the way it was supposed to work," Salazar said. "And from my own preliminary observations, there were some very major mistakes that were made by the companies that were involved. But today is not really the day to deal with those issues."

The Coast Guard and the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service are leading the investigation into the loss of the drill rig, owned by BP contractor Transocean Ltd.

The slick has been spreading across the northern Gulf of Mexico since late April, when the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank about 40 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River. Eleven missing workers who were aboard the rig are presumed dead.

BP owns the damaged well at the heart of the slick. Efforts to shut down the well have failed, leaving it spewing about 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico.

There was no immediate response to Salazar's comments from BP, which has blamed Transocean.Salazar's meeting with BP executives -- his second trip to Houston in less than a week -- comes as oil washed ashore on Louisiana's barrier islands and drifted west past the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Workers also prepared to lower a massive containment vessel over the Gulf of Mexico's two-week-old undersea gusher.
Have you been affected by the oil spill? Share your story, images
A pinkish-orange foam mixture of seawater and crude oil streaked across large stretches of water in the northern Gulf and turned up in the on the shores of the Chandeleur Islands, off southeastern Louisiana. Trace amounts of sheen had been reported on the shores of southeastern Louisiana over the past week, but the landfall reported Thursday appeared to the "first impacts" of oil from the spill, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry told reporters.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP, said mild weather gave cleanup crews more time to attack the spill. More controlled burns were conducted Thursday, after BP and the Coast Guard used fire to destroy several thousand barrels of oil on the surface Wednesday, he said.

But the spill was spreading westward and is projected to drift toward coastal parishes past the Mississippi River delta, spurring Louisiana to begin shifting preventive efforts to its southwestern coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal told reporters Thursday.
"That obviously opens up many more vulnerable areas along our coast," Jindal said. "We're going to do everything we can to keep this oil out."

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration already has closed the area to fishing, restricting a multibillion-dollar industry in the region. Suttles said BP held a meeting with parish governments and state officials, who offered ideas for beating back the oily tide and leveled criticisms.

"What's clear is this is their home," he said. "And what's also clear is they're passionate about protecting their home."
Under federal law, BP is responsible for capping the well and paying for the cleanup. The company shipped a four-story-high containment vessel to the site overnight and expected to lower it toward the seabed nearly a mile below the surface late Thursday, Suttles said.

The hope is that the container will collect the leaking oil, which would be sucked up to a drill ship on the surface. If the operation is successful, BP plans to deploy a second, smaller dome to deal with a second leak in the ruptured pipe.
But getting the large structure into position could take several days, and the technique has never been attempted at the depth of these leaks.

"If all goes according to plan by early next week we hope to make it operational," Suttles said. "As we always do, though, we stress this has never been done before. We'll likely encounter numerous challenges, but we'll remain committed to make it work."

BP has stopped the flow of oil from one of the three existing leak points from the sunken rig, but it was the smallest of the three leaks and did not affect the amount of crude pouring into the ocean.
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Old 05-09-2010, 01:26 PM
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From local news WWLTV via the AP.


Researcher: No obvious oil in sea floor samples

Credit: AP
Oil is seen floating on the water from the deck of the Joe Griffin at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Lousiana Friday, May 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

by Janet McConnaughey / Associated Press
Posted on May 8, 2010 at 5:44 PM

See all 6 photos »

NEW ORLEANS -- Sea floor samples at "ground zero" near a well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico and every two miles along a 10-mile track haven't shown any obvious signs of oil, a researcher said Saturday.

"We're out here in the data gathering mode and won't have any conclusive answers until our colleagues have had a chance to analyze all of the samples," University of Southern Mississippi oceanographer Vernon Asper cautioned.

In an e-mail exchange with The Associated Press, Asper added that it may still be weeks before tiny specks of oily marine debris drift the mile to the bottom near the well.

"They weigh about the same as water (same density) so there isn't much force causing them to sink," he wrote.

The ship was heading toward shore and planned to take samples in shallower water as well, he said.

About a half-dozen dead shrimp-like creatures known as krill were atop a 20-inch cube taken two miles south of the well, but there is no way to tell whether oil killed them, he said.

"Were these killed by the oil? We have no way of knowing, but we documented the finding and plan to bring the proper gear along next time to preserve samples like this for autopsy," he wrote. "At this point, I just put some of them in the freezer with the mud; not sure if that'll suffice or not."

The trip on the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium research vessel Pelican originally was planned to search for deep sea corals, but changed its mission to collecting oil spill data.

Since 2002, the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology -- a partnership of USM, the University of Mississippi and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration -- has been studying the sea floor about nine miles northwest of the spot where 200,000 gallons of oil a day is now spewing.

That means there's plenty of data to compare current and future conditions at that site, called the Gulf of Mexico Consortium's Methane Hydrate Seafloor Observatory, with past conditions.

Asper said samples are taken with a box corer, designed to take an undisturbed 20-inch cube of sediment. On the Pelican, foot-long, 3-inch-wide tubes are used to take smaller samples.

NOAA said the samples will be analyzed by its scientists, the universities of Georgia and North Carolina, and other members of the Gulf of Mexico Hydrates Research Consortium -- a group with a worldwide membership list.
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Old 05-09-2010, 01:29 PM
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St. Bernard Parish races to protect "inner islands" from oil spill

by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
Posted on May 8, 2010 at 6:14 PM

ST. BERNARD, La. - More than 20 miles west of the Chandeleur Islands, oil containment boom now encircles Comfort Island. It is the first of a series of so-called "inner islands," which make up the St. Bernard Parish Coast.
"it's important to protect these inner islands," said Gary Vitrano, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "A lot of birds will use these islands as nesting grounds and right now it's primetime."
As crews try to protect this small patch of land, other fishermen spent Saturday laying out oil boom further inland, along the delicate coastal marshes of the parish. Even as St. Bernard fishermen continue to lay out oil containment and absorbent boom, parish officials said they still do not have enough oil containment boom to protect the coast. The need: 100,000 more feet of boom, in order to help protect a coastline that is more than 40 miles long.
"We keep running against the clock," said St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro. "We may get some reprieve and get another extra day or two, but sooner or later, we're going to be out of time and we hope before then we have enough resources."
While fishermen and officials worried about keeping out the oil, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officers focused on keeping out private fishermen from the closed waters east of the Mississippi River. On Saturday, officers encountered two boats, with people fishing in Bayou La Loutre.
"We have had some enforcement issues with that," said Sgt. Jason Russo of LDWF. "For those most part, it's been pretty compliant."

The officers are also out with biologists, on seven different boats, searching the St. Bernard coast for wildlife and marine life, which may have come in contact with the oil spill.
"The oil is still 20 miles from us right now, in the sound, so really our biologists and enforcement agents probably be the people who come in contact first with any distressed wildlife," Vitrano said.
Biologists have also taken tissue samples of fish, shrimp and oysters from the waters of coastal St. Bernard. They plan to create a baseline that will be used to test the safety of seafood coming out of those waters.

Last edited by JessE; 05-09-2010 at 01:31 PM.
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Old 05-09-2010, 01:41 PM
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By Jim Tankersley, Tribune Washington Bureau, and Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times May 8, 2010 | 6:15 p.m.

Reporting from Washington and Gulfport, Miss.

While oil and gas companies have pushed the frontiers of offshore drilling into deeper, more dangerous waters over the last decade, their government watchdogs stayed behind in the shallows, clinging to long-standing practices and failing to plan for new hazards, according to scores of federal documents and interviews with government officials and outside auditors.

So when the Deepwater Horizon barge, leased by BP, exploded April 20 and 5,000 barrels of oil started flowing daily into the Gulf of Mexico, neither the oil companies nor their regulators in the Interior Department were ready.

There was no written protocol, no history of drills to simulate a disaster anywhere close to this size. Interior analysts had calculated that the chances of any spill exceeding 1,000 barrels were 3% to 5%. There are no records to suggest anyone had seriously considered the possibility of such a nightmare coming true.

Computer analyses projected only a 7% chance that in a month's time a spill in the area where the BP leak began could drift into the marshes and bayous of St. Bernard Parish, La. Oil from the spill began washing up in the parish Thursday, 16 days after fires erupted on the Deepwater Horizon and sent it to the bottom of the gulf, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead.

As a result, officials found themselves inventing untested plans as the BP spill worsened. Company officials are putting their hopes on a temporary fix, a concrete-and-steel containment box that was lowered over the main leak Friday. The box is designed to funnel the oil flow via pipes into a ship. But it ran afoul that same night when it became clogged with gas and water crystals that look like slush.

It could take days to remedy that problem — and officials can't guarantee success. And even then, it won't permanently stop the flow of oil from BP's well head. Plan B, drilling a relief well, could take three months.

Officials who oversee offshore drilling defend their risk assessment models and oversight practices, noting that it's been 30 years since there has been a major offshore blowout anywhere in the world.

But documents and interviews suggest the Minerals Management Service, the branch of the Interior Department that oversees oil and gas drilling on federal land and offshore, has fallen behind in several of its fundamental regulatory duties, including enforcing environmental and safety rules, assessing the risks of energy exploration and calculating how much money the federal government is owed in oil and gas royalties.

At the same time, the management service has taken pains to help the energy industry move ahead with cutting-edge technologies to drain fossil fuels from increasingly remote locations. Its confidence in the industry appears entrenched, according to audit findings and interviews.

For example, MMS safety inspections have consisted mainly of helicopter visits to offshore rigs to parse the company's results of self-administered tests. MMS officials say their risk modelers essentially trust that new industry drilling techniques will be as safe as the simpler techniques of the last several decades.

Safety regulators have exempted many new technologies from formal procedures to create rules, instead collaborating with industry groups to make certain those technologies comply with regulations crafted for less-challenging drilling techniques, under a process called "alternative compliance."

The Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress, has criticized the environmental and technological expertise of the agency in a series of reports. In March, a GAO report found that MMS suppressed its own scientists' concerns over proposed Arctic drilling — a prospect far riskier than Gulf of Mexico exploration because of its remote locale and treacherous ice-filled seas. The office also found that the agency possessed no formal handbook for conducting legally required environmental reviews of drilling projects.

The service also lagged in one of its most fundamental tasks — ensuring oil companies accurately report oil flows used to calculate royalties, the GAO found. MMS had not updated some of its measurement standards in two decades, had fallen behind current technologies, and failed to meet inspection and calibration goals aimed at maintaining accurate measurements.

"What MMS struggles with is striking that balance between developing the resource and ensuring the environmental considerations are thought out," Mark Gaffigan, a director in the GAO's natural resources division, said in an interview. "The question is whether they've really thought everything through and are taking a look at all the changing technologies…particularly as you get into higher degrees of difficulty" such as deepwater drilling.

Interior leaders say they will evaluate the entire system of regulating offshore drilling as part of a series of investigations into the BP spill.

"We're looking at everything," Matt Lee-Ashley, an Interior spokesman, said in a written statement. The investigations, he added, "will help us get to the bottom of what happened and determine what changes might need to be made to ensure this never happens again. We expect an important part of this work will include an evaluation of the risk-assessment modeling currently employed. Those findings will direct what changes, if any, may be required."

To drill in federal waters, companies must clear a series of MMS reviews, including several meant to gauge environmental risk. Companies must detail the equipment and procedures involved in their operations and develop contingency plans to respond to accidents.

But even though MMS approved a BP spill-prevention plan last year that said the "worst case" blowout could spew 250,000 barrels of oil a day — the equivalent of an Exxon-Valdez-size catastrophe once a day — no one appears to have developed a response plan for that scenario.

MMS calculates the risk of a major spill based on historical precedent, even as gulf drilling moves into unprecedented depths. Because of that, the assessments don't accurately reflect new challenges of drilling for oil far from equipment and support, to depths inhospitable to divers, where extremes of pressures and temperatures can tax materials such as cements used to fix casings, or synthetic materials used for seals and valves.

In addition, unfamiliar formations in the deep sea can contain hidden surprises, such as contaminants or layers of unforeseen high pressure. A gas leak at the seafloor may result in gas expanding very quickly as it travels the long distance to the water's surface — in the worst case, producing blowouts. Such a scenario is being investigated in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Even though the BP drilling project faced all those challenges, MMS officials last year concluded after a month of study that it did not pose a large enough spill risk to warrant a detailed review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Decisions to grant those so-called categorical exclusions from the act have become common practice at MMS, which granted two dozen of them even after the Deepwater Horizon sank.

Officials say that MMS' frequent spill-preparedness drills, sprung upon unsuspecting oil companies in the dead of night, have never approximated anything close to a blowout the size of the Horizon disaster. Instead, the drills often model one of the most common types of spills to occur in the gulf: a discharge of 50 to 100 gallons of fuel in a botched interchange between rig and tanker. Officials and outside supporters say the practice means the management service is focusing on the most likely scenarios.

Lynn Scarlett, a former deputy secretary of Interior, said budget constraints have hamstrung MMS' ability to meet more demanding responsibilities as energy prospecting has moved farther offshore.

"In the deep water — that's precisely when these agencies need more resources to deploy the most extensive analysis that is available to us," she said. "Unfortunately, they don't have those resources available to them. That may ring hollow to the American public. But I have sympathy for agencies that are asked to do so much."

BP officials said again Friday that since such an event had never occurred, they couldn't be expected to have tools on hand to stanch the oil leak.

A collection of federal agencies focused largely on skimming the slick and spraying chemical dispersant to break up the oil. Responders even began to corral the oil slick in booms and light it on fire, but discovered there were not enough flame-resistant fire booms.

Robotic submarines could not manipulate a mechanism designed to prevent blowouts, although they succeeded in cutting a pipe and installing a valve to stop one leak. Now BP officials are looking to the untested cofferdam to give them time to find a permanent fix.

Privately, some federal officials predict the spill will force major changes in how the government regulates drilling and prepares for spills. And even the current system virtually guarantees officials will be more prepared next time: Government risk models based only on a precedent now have one.
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Old 05-09-2010, 03:27 PM
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By Carol Forsloff
NEW ORLEANS – A top federal officer assigned as incident commander for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill catastrophe says he faces a situation that is “unprecedented and asymmetric and difficult to deal with.”
Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen – a top troubleshooter who handled Katrina – said he cannot predict how long it will be before BP and other officials working with them can cap the flow of oil, how much will leak and how much of the coastline will be affected since that depends on the whim of “Mother Nature.”
“We’ve actually gone back and done some historical work of going back actually three decades of what’s happened in the Gulf of Mexico,” Allen said in a media conference call.
“I think what’s unprecedented about this event is the depth of the water and the complexity associated with working with a wellhead at 5,000 feet, the use of remotely operated vehicles and the issues associated with where it’s at and, again, the depth,” he said when asked about comparing the incident to other spill events, mostly from surface vessels.
“In the past, most of these events have related to surface incidents or collisions of very large ships carrying crude oil. And we’ve been able to actually quantify how much oil was at risk,” he said.
“When a vessel has a collision or runs aground, we know the volume of the vessel, we know what’s still onboard, and we can assess to a very precise degree how much product is actually in the water,” Allen added.
What makes this anomalous is until we cap the well we have an indeterminate of oil potentially that could come to the surface and have to be dealt with,” Allen said candidly as authorities continued to mount pressure on BP to come up with a quick response the stem the flow of oil.
“And in terms of planning assumptions, we’re planning for a very, very broad case scenario where there would be a lot of oil left there. But there is really no way to predict with absolute certainty until the well is capped how much oil we’re going to be dealing with. And that is probably the main feature that makes this unprecedented and asymmetric and difficult to deal with.”
Allen said the government prepared for the worst case scenario when news of the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig broke.
“The deployment of our equipment was not related to any of the early estimates related to 1,000 barrels a day or 5,000 barrels a day, and in fact, any exact estimation of what’s flowing out of those pipes down there is probably impossible at this time due to the depth of the water and our ability to try and assess that from remotely operated vehicles and video.
“Our preparations were for something way beyond that, and we continue to stage large amounts of equipment, and direct BP to do the things that they’re responsible for,” he said as BP continued to be graded for its lack of preparation and failure to come up with answers about how to handle an unprecedented event.
“I didn’t say estimates are impossible. Estimates are what they are — the precision. I think in this case, the difference between 1,000 barrels a day and 5,000 barrels day — if you look at potentially this can go on for 45 or 90 days if we don’t cap it, the rate is less important than the accumulation of oil on the surface, and at that point, really it would be an undetermined amount of oil that’s in the reservoir that’s 18,000 feet below the wellhead,” he said of the challenge of managing a deep oil leak.
“That’s the reason the focus has got to be to stop it at the source. We can talk about the difference between a thousand and 5,000 barrels a day, but quite frankly, the continued leakage of anything for that period of time is going to cause an extraordinary amount of problems for us. We’ve got to attack this on the surface.
“So the estimates are useful, but we are planning far beyond that because we don’t know how many days this will occur. That’s the reason it’s so important to stop this at the wellhead,” he said.
Allen also said winds and weather will play a key role in pushing crude to the coastlines of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle.
“There’s a line of weather coming through. It’s very rough and windy down there, as you know. The prevailing winds have been from the south and southeast, which would mean it’s pushing towards Louisiana. We know it’s lingering offshore — there’s been some sheening that’s approached shore. But at the time of this conversation, we have no reported actual contact with the heavy oil on the beaches in and around Louisiana.
“As the weather moves around from the south to the southwest,
which it could over the next 48 to 72 hours, that potentially starts to put Mississippi and Alabama at risk,” he said.
But he added predicting the tragectory of the oil that is on the surface, measuring in size to that of Puerto Rico, is a challenge.
” But I think we need to be looking at the implications for Mississippi and Alabama over the next 72 to 96 hours.
Of BP’s response, he said: “We continue to monitor them. They are responsible for this spill, they are paying for the cost of the spill. The best way I’d described this is BP is the responsible party, but the federal on-scene coordinator, I now as the National Incident Commander, am the accountable party.”
In Mobile, Alabama, authorities said they were forced to stop the deployment of protective booms because of bad weather even as time runs out to protect sensitive areas.
“The response to the Deepwater Horizon incident continues with limited operations due to inclement weather. Operations are scheduled to resume Sunday weather permitting,” the United Command in Mobile said.
“Coastal protection and booming operations under the direction of the Unified Command Mobile are ongoing, actively deploying as rapidly as possible as part of the strategic plan across Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle,” the Unified Command said.
“The protective measures are targeting the barrier islands and prioritized environmentally sensitive areas,” said a statement.
So far only one oiled bird has been found but the International Bird Rescue Research Center said it has positioned itself expecting an unknown number of different species of birds that could be affected as the oil inevitably moves towards the coast.
“International Bird Rescue’s focus now is on preparing for the influx of oiled birds once the slick moves closer to the Gulf coast, where pelicans, egrets and terns nest and feed,” said IBRRC director and oil spill veteran Jay Holcomb. “Even after my 25 years responding to oil spills, it’s impossible to predict the kinds of impacts we might see to
birds—it all depends on the tides, weather, and other factors beyond our control. Rather than waste time with conjecture, we are spending our days preparing for any eventuality.

Last edited by JessE; 05-09-2010 at 03:30 PM.
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Old 05-09-2010, 03:36 PM
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For BP, a history of spills and safety lapses

Oil giant pledged improvements after previous safety shortfalls

By Jad Mouawad
updated 5:38 a.m. ET, Sun., May 9, 2010

After BP's Texas City, Tex., refinery blew up in 2005, killing 15 workers, the company vowed to address the safety shortfalls that caused the blast.
The next year, when a badly maintained oil pipeline ruptured and spilled 200,000 gallons of crude oil over Alaska's North Slope, the oil giant once again promised to clean up its act.
In 2007, when Tony Hayward took over as chief executive, BP settled a series of criminal charges, including some related to Texas City, and agreed to pay $370 million in fines. "Our operations failed to meet our own standards and the requirements of the law," the company said then, pledging to improve its "risk management."

Despite those repeated promises to reform, BP continues to lag behind other oil companies when it comes to safety, according to federal officials and industry analysts. Many problems still afflict its operations in Texas and Alaska, they say. Regulators are investigating a whistle-blower's allegations of safety violations at the Atlantis, one of BP's newest offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now BP is in the spotlight because of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 people and continues to spew oil into the ocean. It is too early to say what caused the explosion. Other companies were also involved, including Transocean, which owned and operated the drilling rig, and Halliburton, which had worked on the well a day before the explosion.

BP, based in London, has repeatedly asserted that Transocean was solely responsible for the accident.
However, lawmakers plan to question BP executives about their overall commitment to safety at Congressional hearings this week on the Gulf incident.

"It is a corporate problem," said Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, who has been particularly critical of BP's operations in Alaska and will lead the House committee hearing, on Wednesday. "Their mentality is to get in the foxhole and batten down the hatch. It just seems there is this pattern."

Oil industry dangerous

The oil industry is inherently more dangerous than many other industries, and oil companies, including BP, strive to reduce accidents and improve safety.

But BP, the nation's biggest oil and gas producer, has a worse health, environment and safety record than many other major oil companies, according to Yulia Reuter, the head of the energy research team at RiskMetrics, a consulting group that assigns scores to companies based on their performance in various categories, including safety.

The industry standard for safety, analysts say, is set by Exxon Mobil, which displays an obsessive attention to detail, monitors the smallest spill and imposes scripted procedures on managers.

Before drilling a well, for example, it runs elaborate computer models to test beforehand what the drillers might encounter. The company trains contractors to recognize risky behavior and asks employees for suggestions on how to improve safety. It says it has cut time lost to safety incidents by 12 percent each year since 2000.

Analysts credit that focus, in part, to the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez grounding, which spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska.
"Whatever you think of them, Exxon is now the safest oil company there is," said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy expert at Rice University.

In an interview last week, Mr. Hayward, BP's chief executive, conceded that the company had problems when he took over three years ago. But he said he had instituted broad changes to improve safety, including setting up a common management system with precise safety rules and training for all facilities.
"You can't change an organization of 100,000 people overnight, but we have made extraordinary strides in three years," Mr. Hayward said.

Ms. Reuter agrees that the company has made improvements during that time, resulting in fewer spills and injuries.
Yet some government officials say that they are troubled by the continuation of hazardous practices at BP’s refineries and Alaskan oil operations despite warnings from regulators.

For example, last year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found more than 700 violations at the Texas City refinery — many concerning faulty valves, which are critical for safety given the high temperatures and pressures. The agency fined BP a record $87.4 million, which was more than four times the previous record fine, also to BP, for the 2005 explosion. Another refinery, in Toledo, Ohio, was fined $3 million two months ago for "willful" safety violations, including the use of valves similar to those that contributed to the Texas City blast.

"BP has systemic safety and health problems," said Jordan Barab, the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. "They need to take their intentions and apply them much more effectively on the ground, where the hazards actually lie."

BP said it was in full compliance and had contested the OSHA findings at Texas City and Toledo. Since the 2005 blast in Texas, BP has invested $1 billion to improve the refinery, it said.

Problems also remain in Alaska. In January, leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent BP a letter highlighting "serious safety and production incidents" over the last two years in Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field.
In October 2009, gas at the field's central processing plant leaked because of a stuck valve. BP operators were unaware of the leak because a pilot flame was not lit and security cameras were not pointed in the right direction, the committee said.
"This incident could have caused an explosion," Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, and Mr. Stupak told BP in the letter.

Mr. Hayward acknowledged that the gas leak could have been serious but insisted "it wasn't an incident."
As for its Atlantis offshore platform, BP said it had found no evidence to support a whistle-blower's allegations that it was operating without all the right paperwork. A spokesman for the company said, "Platform personnel have access to the information they need for the safe operation of the facility."

The identity of the whistle-blower, and the exact nature of the person's evidence, have not been made public. The federal Minerals Management Service is conducting the investigation.

Culture of risk

Some analysts say the safety problems indicate that BP has not yet reined in the culture of risk that prevailed under Mr. Hayward's predecessor, John Browne, who transformed BP from a sleepy British oil producer into one of the world's top explorers through the acquisitions of Amoco and Atlantic Richfield.

Mr. Browne set aggressive profit goals, and BP managers drastically cut costs to meet their quarterly targets. After the 2005 explosion in Texas City, investigators found that routine maintenance that might have averted the accident had been delayed because of pressure to reduce expenses.

In 2007, an independent review panel appointed by BP and led by James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, painted a scathing portrait of cultural failure at BP, finding that the company put profits before safety.
Mr. Browne, through a representative, declined to comment for this article.

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One person brought in to address BP's lapses was Robert A. Malone, the chairman of BP America from 2006 to 2009.
"What I saw were breakdowns in a culture of safety," said Mr. Malone. "But to say there was something systemic — I couldn't see that."

Until the Deepwater Horizon accident, BP had not been involved in a fatal accident in the Gulf of Mexico. But between 1996 and 2009, according to the Minerals Management Service, BP-operated platforms spilled a total of about 7,000 barrels of oil — 14 percent of the amount spilled in the Gulf by any company. In that period, BP accounted for 15 percent of the oil production in the Gulf.

Now, the government says, nearly that much oil is pouring out every day from the current spill.

Last edited by JessE; 05-09-2010 at 03:47 PM.
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Old 05-09-2010, 04:00 PM
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U.S. exempted BP rig from environmental study

Government oversight was ‘little more than rubber-stamping,’ expert says

By Juliet Eilperin
updated 7:46 a.m. ET, Wed., May 5, 2010

The Interior Department exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.

The decision by the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP's lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP's lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.
Now, environmentalists and some key senators are calling for a reassessment of safety requirements for offshore drilling.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who has supported offshore oil drilling in the past, said, "I suspect you're going to see an entirely different regime once people have a chance to sit back and take a look at how do we anticipate and clean up these potential environmental consequences" from drilling.

BP spokesman Toby Odone said the company's appeal for NEPA waivers in the past "was based on the spill and incident-response history in the Gulf of Mexico."

'Complacency breeds disaster'

Once the various investigations of the new spill have been completed, he added, "the causes of this incident can be applied to determine any changes in the regulatory regime that are required to protect the environment."
"I'm of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday. "That, in my opinion, is what happened."

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said it is important to learn the cause of the accident before pursuing a major policy change.
"While the conversation has shifted, the energy reality has not," Gerard said. "The American economy still relies on oil and gas."
While the MMS assessed the environmental impact of drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico on three occasions in 2007 — including a specific evaluation of BP's Lease 206 at Deepwater Horizon — in each case it played down the prospect of a major blowout.

In one assessment, the agency estimated that "a large oil spill" from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a "deepwater spill," occurring "offshore of the inner Continental shelf," would not reach the coast.

In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling 4,600 barrels and forecast that it would largely dissipate within 10 days and would be unlikely to make landfall.

"They never did an analysis that took into account what turns out to be the very real possibility of a serious spill," said Holly Doremus, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has reviewed the documents.

Hundreds of waivers

The MMS mandates that companies drilling in some areas identify under NEPA what could reduce a project's environmental impact.
But Interior Department spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley said the service grants between 250 and 400 waivers a year for Gulf of Mexico projects.

He added that Interior has now established the "first ever" board to examine safety procedures for offshore drilling. It will report back within 30 days on BP's oil spill and will conduct "a broader review of safety issues," Lee-Ashley said.

BP's exploration plan for Lease 206, which calls the prospect of an oil spill "unlikely," stated that "no mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources."

While the plan included a 13-page environmental impact analysis, it minimized the prospect of any serious damage associated with a spill, saying there would be only "sub-lethal" effects on fish and marine mammals, and "birds could become oiled. However it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities."

Kierán Suckling, executive director of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said the federal waiver "put BP entirely in control" of the way it conducted its drilling.
"The agency's oversight role has devolved to little more than rubber-stamping British Petroleum's self-serving drilling plans," Suckling said.

BP has lobbied the White House Council on Environmental Quality — which provides NEPA guidance for all federal agencies — to provide categorical exemptions more often. In an April 9 letter, BP America's senior federal affairs director, Margaret D. Laney, wrote to the council that such exemptions should be used in situations where environmental damage is likely to be "minimal or non-existent."

An expansion in these waivers would help "avoid unnecessary paperwork and time delays," she added.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were talking Tuesday about curtailing offshore oil exploration rather than making it easier.
In addition to traditional foes of offshore drilling such as Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and centrists such as Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said they are taking a second look at such methods.
"It's time to push the pause button," Baucus told reporters.

Last edited by JessE; 05-09-2010 at 04:07 PM.
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Old 05-09-2010, 04:20 PM
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Alaska fishermen still struggling 21 years after Exxon spill

From Dan Simon and Augie Martin, CNN
May 7, 2010 1:11 p.m. EDT

Alaska fisherman John Platt still struggles with financial and psychological effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

  • Alaskan town heavily reliant on herring suffers after the fish disappeared
  • Herring disappeared three years after spill; Exxon says spill not to blame
  • "I wasted 20 years of my life," says fisherman who stayed in Cordova after spill
  • Fishermen who stayed say situation hurt their income, relationships

Cordova, Alaska (CNN) -- For third-generation fisherman John Platt, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill is a financial and psychological nightmare that won't end.

Three years after the 11 million-gallon spill in Prince William Sound blackened 1,500 miles of Alaska coastline, the herring on which he and other Cordova fishermen heavily relied disappeared from the area. Platt and some others stuck around, fishing for salmon and hoping things would improve.

The herring never returned to Cordova. Platt's income plummeted, severely straining his marriage and psyche. He dipped into his sons' college funds to support his family.
"People's lives were ruined," Platt said. "There were damn good fishermen here in the Sound, and they just said, 'Screw it' and left, and tried to make a living elsewhere."
As for Platt, who stayed: "I wasted 20 years of my life," he said.

Platt and other people in the Alaskan village of about 2,500 people say they still are suffering economically and emotionally 21 years after the oil disaster. About 3,400 miles away, an oil leak that started last month in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening the Gulf Coast
"Here we go again," Platt said of the oil leak in the Gulf. "I feel real bad for the people who are going to potentially go through what we did here."

The herring loss alone has cost the region about $400 million over the past 21 years, according to R.J. Kopchak, a former fisherman who is now developmental director at Cordova's Prince William Sound Science Center.

The average fisherman suffered a 30 percent loss in income after the spill, but those who specialized in just herring lost everything, Kopchak said.

Sociologists who spent years around the Sound after the disaster concluded that a fifth of all the area's commercial fishermen suffered severe anxiety, and as many as 40 percent suffered from severe depression.
"People went bankrupt. People lost things," said Mike Webber, a Cordova fisherman. He said perhaps 30 to 40 families have left Cordova since the disaster.
Webber, who fished for herring and salmon before the spill and continued fishing for salmon in the years after, said he began drinking heavily after 1989. He then lost his marriage.
"I blame my divorce on Exxon -- the oil spill," Webber said. "It was just aggravation and frustration that tore us apart."
The surface oil from the spill had largely disappeared within three years of the spill, according to studies conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration. But oil residue still can be found on the shore.
"It is a lingering problem, as they say, with no easy solution," Kopchak said.
Money from Exxon hasn't made the fishermen's problems disappear. Besides the $2.5 billion that Exxon is estimated to have paid for the cleanup, it reportedly paid $300 million soon after the disaster to 11,000 fishermen, fish processors and others affected.
In 1994, a federal jury ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, but appeals reduced that award to $507.5 million. Last year, a federal court ordered Exxon to also pay $470 million in interest on the punitive damages.
Platt says he has received about $600,000 from Exxon. But most of it was used to clear liens on his fishing permits and boats, he said.
Is the current oil spill affecting you? Share your story
Before Exxon's successful appeals, fishermen were expecting a lot more, Platt said.

"I think the general perception is that we were compensated a long time ago, that everything is rosy. That's not the case," Platt said.

Exxon says the spill had nothing to do with the herring disappearance. In a statement, Exxon said the herring catches were outstanding for the first three years after the spill, and that scientific studies showed that the subsequent decline was caused in part by ocean factors that led to poor nutrition, and perhaps by disease. Other studies, Exxon said, pointed to competitive interactions between young herring and young salmon, and to predators.
"The Valdez oil spill was a tragic accident and one which ExxonMobil deeply regrets," Exxon said in a separate statement. "We took immediate responsibility for the spill and have spent over $4.3 billion as a result of the accident, including compensatory payments, cleanup payments, settlements and fines."
"As a result of the accident, Exxon undertook significant operational reforms and implemented an exceptionally thorough operational management system to prevent future incidents. ExxonMobil has a long history of community support throughout Alaska and we continue to expand that focus," the statement said.
For Platt, the nightmare continues.
"We got hosed here in Cordova, and nobody cares," Platt said.

Last edited by JessE; 05-09-2010 at 04:31 PM.
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Old 05-09-2010, 04:59 PM
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Angry Exxon Valdez

In a matter of days this spill will eclipse the Exxon Valdez spill..."they" could not properly estimate the damage because "they" could not account for all the dead animals that simply sank to the ocean floor...some side effects of the spill included the death of several thousand animals, as well as higher rates of alcoholism, suicide, and depression amongst the inhabitants who depended heavily upon the waters for their livelihood...when it's all said and done, this will be the single largest catastrophic event to our ecosystem ever...considering how much big business simply does not care about the environment, I think that's a rather scary statement...they won't admit their fault...they can't afford to clean it up...they can't clean it up...and they will do it finger will be pointed at Halliburton because Halliburton are an untouchable...they can do no fact, they're probably paying BP to take the blame...Pres. Obama himself wouldn't say it was Halliburton's fault...that's how much power that one little energy company has...don't sleep on Halliburton...that company takes sh-t from no one...fu-kers...jay
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Old 05-09-2010, 11:34 PM
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You're going to love this one Jay.

Next step to stop oil: Throw garbage at it

By the CNN Wire Staff
May 9, 2010 5:22 p.m. EDT

The four-story oil containment dome made its way beneath the Gulf of Mexico early Friday in an attempt to capture leaking oil.

  • NEW: BP officials considering "junk shot" to try to clog blowout container with debris
  • Crystals accumulated inside containment dome, rendering it ineffective
  • Dome moved to side of wellhead while crews work to overcome the challenge, BP CEO says
  • Placing dome over well 5,000 feet underwater had never been tried at such a depth

Venice, Louisiana (CNN) -- If using a massive dome to cover the source of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico doesn't work, crews are preparing for another option: clogging it.

Engineers are examining whether they can close a failed blowout preventer by stuffing it with trash, said Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard. The 48-foot-tall, 450-ton device sits atop the well at the heart of the Gulf oil spill and is designed to stop leaks, but it has not been working properly since the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and later sank.

"The next tactic is going to be something they call a junk shot," Allen told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "They'll take a bunch of debris -- shredded up tires, golf balls and things like that -- and under very high pressure, shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak."

Oil company BP, the well's owner, had attempted to lower a four-story containment vessel over the well to cap the larger of the well's two leak points. But that plan was thwarted Saturday after ice-like hydrate crystals, formed when gas combined with water, blocked the top of the dome and made it buoyant.

BP said it has not abandoned the dome plan. But Doug Suttles, the company's chief operating officer, told reporters that officials are considering the "junk shot" along with other possible solutions.

Suttles said Saturday that trying to stuff shut the blowout preventer had not yet been attempted because of possible challenges and risks. And Allen said the approach had worked in the past, but never so deep beneath the water's surface.

"We're working at 5,000 feet of depth, which has never been done before," he said.

The dome was resting on the seabed Sunday while crews tried to find a way to deal with the crystals -- a process that could take two days, Suttles told reporters Saturday.

Officials are considering heating the dome or adding methanol to dissolve the hydrates, he said. If the hydrate problem is resolved, BP hopes to connect the dome to a drill ship and to begin sucking oil from the containment dome.

In the meantime, an estimated 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of crude is pouring from the well every day. Hundreds of thousands of feet of boom and large volumes of dispersants continued to be deployed in an effort to capture or break up the spilled oil moving toward the Gulf coastline, and thousands of workers and volunteers diligently worked to skim the water's surface.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters warned that the Mississippi Delta, Breton Sound, the Chandeleur Islands and areas directly north could see oil hit the coast by Tuesday, and significant winds could push oil west of the Mississippi Delta by Monday. And scientists are analyzing tar balls found on a beach on Dauphin Island, Alabama, to determine whether they were caused by the oil spill, and Coast Guard spokesman Erik Swanson said.
The tar balls are "pieces of emulsified oil" shaped like pancakes, ranging in size from dimes to golf balls, but can sometimes occur naturally, Swanson said.

The stakes are high for residents of coastal Louisiana who make their living by fishing in the Gulf. Oil washed ashore Thursday on Louisiana's barrier islands and drifted west past the mouth of the Mississippi River.

"It's killing everybody down here, everybody is more or less getting ulcers worrying about this, and it's something we experienced five years ago with [Hurricane] Katrina," charter-boat owner Tom Becker told CNN Saturday.

Federal investigators are still trying determining what caused the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon, owned by BP contractor Transocean Ltd. The explosion left 11 men presumed dead aboard the rig and caused the massive underwater gusher that the company and the federal government have been trying to cap since late April.

Suttles said Saturday that senior BP employees, including the company's vice president for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, were on board the rig at the time of the explosion discussing its positive safety performance.
"This rig had an outstanding record," he said.

All six BP employees on board were among the 111 people who escaped from the burning rig, Suttles said.
BP is legally required to cover economic damages from the spill up to $75 million. But Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has introduced legislation that would raise the liability cap to $10 billion.

"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf Coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida, and you are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training," Nelson said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Last edited by JessE; 05-09-2010 at 11:41 PM.
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