Revolutionizing Awareness

helping humanity, make choices, more so through awareness, than ignorance

Posts Tagged ‘oil spill’

BP pledges Gulf of Mexico oil fields to spill fund

Posted by Admin on October 2, 2010

Oil spill containment boom, shown holding back oil

Oil Spill Containment Boom

A logo is seen at a BP fuel station

Spill of Spills

Advertisements

Posted in Pollution | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on BP pledges Gulf of Mexico oil fields to spill fund

Gulf oil well on verge of being plugged for good

Posted by Admin on September 17, 2010

NEW ORLEANS – After five months, the oil well that had spewed millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico is on the verge of being plugged once and for all.

A relief well drilled nearly 2.5 miles beneath the floor of the Gulf of Mexico intersected BP’s blown-out well, a prelude to permanently killing it, the U.S government said late Thursday.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the oil spill, said in a statement that data shows the two wells are joined. The next step will be to pump mud and cement down through the relief well to seal the ruptured well from the bottom.

According to the government, the final seal should happen by Sunday, five agonizing months after an explosion killed 11 workers, sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. But BP said Friday in a statement that it expected the well to be completely sealed Saturday.

“I am ready for that cigar now,” John Wright, who led the team drilling the relief well, said in an e-mail Friday to The Associated Press from aboard the Development Driller III vessel.

Wright, who is not a BP employee but is working on a contract basis, had told the AP in August that he was looking forward to finishing his mission and celebrating with a cigar, a dinner party with his crew and a trip somewhere quiet to unwind with his wife.

The gusher was contained in mid-July after a temporary cap was successfully fitted atop the well. Mud and cement were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to be removed. But the blown-out well cannot be declared dead until it is sealed from the bottom.

The April 20 blast sank the Deepwater Horizon rig and triggered the spill that eventually spewed 206 million gallons of oil from the well. BP PLC is a majority owner of the well and was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.

The disaster caused an environmental and economic nightmare for people who live, work and play along hundreds of miles of Gulf shoreline from Florida to Texas. It also spurred civil and criminal investigations, cost gaffe-prone BP chief Tony Hayward his job and brought increased governmental scrutiny of the oil and gas industry, including a costly moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling that is still in place.

Gulf residents will be feeling the pain for years to come. There is still plenty of oil in the water, and some continues to wash up on shore.

Many people are still struggling to make ends meet with some waters still closed to fishing. Shrimpers who are allowed to fish are finding it difficult to sell their catch because of the perception — largely from people outside the region — that the seafood is not safe to eat. Tourism along the Gulf has taken a hit.

BP took some of the blame for the Gulf oil disaster in an internal report issued earlier this month, acknowledging among other things that it misinterpreted a key pressure test of the well. But in a possible preview of its legal strategy, it also pointed the finger at its partners on the doomed rig.

Meanwhile, Wright, the driller, has never missed his target over the years, successfully drilling 40 previous relief wells that were used to plug leaks around the world. He has now made it 41-for-41.

Posted in Pollution | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Gulf oil well on verge of being plugged for good

Official: BP CEO Hayward being replaced over spill

Posted by Admin on July 25, 2010

NEW ORLEANS – A senior U.S. government official says BP ChiefExecutive Tony Hayward, under fire for his handling of the Gulf oil spill, is being replaced.

An official announcement could come as early as Monday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because that announcement had not been made, was briefed on the decision by a senior BP official late last week.

The official did not know who would replace Hayward or when it would happen. One of the most likely successors is BP Managing Director Bob Dudley, who is currently overseeing the British company’s spill response.

BP’s board would have to approve a change in company leadership.

Hayward has made several gaffes, most notably wishing to have his “life back” and going to a yacht race while oil washed up on Gulf shores.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The effort to plug BP’s leaky oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was back on track Sunday as the skies cleared and crews raced to stop the gusher for good before another storm halts the operation again.

drill rig is expected to reconnect at around midnight to the relief tunnel that will be used to pump in mud and cement to seal the well, and drilling could resume in the next few days.

A temporary plug already has held in the oil for nine days, and BP was able to leave it in place even after the government’s point man on the spill ordered ships working in the Gulf to evacuate ahead of Tropical StormBonnie late last week.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said officials will spend the next day determining how the small storm affected the area.

Oil may have migrated north to Mississippi Sound, he said, and officials are checking to see if boom that was protecting sensitive marshlands was pushed ashore.

As work on the well resumed, British media reported that BP chief executive Tony Hayward is negotiating the terms of his departure ahead of the company’s half-year results announcement Tuesday.

Citing unidentified sources, the BBC and Sunday Telegraph reported that detailed talks regarding Hayward’s future took place over the weekend. A formal announcement is expected in the next 24 hours, the BBC reported.

BP spokesman Toby Odone said Sunday that Hayward “remains BP’s chief executive, and he has the confidence of the board and senior management.”

Allen said he hadn’t heard of any management changes.

“I’ve got no knowledge of the inner workings of BP,” he said.

Hayward, who angered Americans by minimizing the spill’s environmental impact and expressing his exasperation by saying “I’d like my life back,” has been under heavy criticism over his gaffe-prone leadership during the spill.

Before the cap was attached and closed a week ago, the broken well had spewed 94 million to 184 million gallons into the Gulf since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

Completion of the relief well that is the best chance to permanently stop the oil now looks possible by mid-August, but Allen said he wouldn’t hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie.

“We have no choice but to start well ahead of time if we think the storm track is going to bring gale force winds, which are 39 mph or above, anywhere close to well site,” Allen said.

In the oil-affected hamlet of Grand Isle, La., thousands of people spent a gray Saturday at the beach, listening to music. The Island Aid concert, which included LeAnn Rimes and Three Dog Night, raised money for civic projects on the island.

For the afternoon at least, things were almost back to normal. Young women in bathing suits rode around on golf carts while young men in pickup trucks tooted their horns and shouted.

“This is the way Grand Isle is supposed to be but hasn’t been this year,” said Anne Leblanc of Metairie, La., who said her family has been visiting the island for years. “This is the first we came this year. With the oil spill there hasn’t been a reason to come, no swimming, no fishing.”

___

Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in New Orleans and Mary Foster in Grand Isle, La., contributed to this report.

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on Official: BP CEO Hayward being replaced over spill

Big Oil makes war on the Earth

Posted by Admin on July 22, 2010

Big Oil makes war on the Earth
By Ellen Cantarow

If you live on the Gulf Coast, welcome to the real world of oil – and just know that you’re not alone. In the Niger Delta and the Ecuadorian Amazon, among other places, your emerging hell has been the living hell of local populations for decades.

Even as I was visiting those distant and exotic spill locales via book, article, and YouTube, you were going through your very public nightmare. Three federal appeals court judges with financial and other ties to big oil were rejecting the Barack Obama administration’s proposed drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico. Pollution from the BP spill there was seeping into Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans. Clean-up crews were

discovering that a once-over of beaches isn’t nearly enough: somehow, the oil just keeps reappearing.

Endangered sea turtles and other creatures were being burnt alive in swaths of ocean (“burn fields”) ignited by BP to “contain” its catastrophe. The lives and livelihoods of fishermen and oyster-shuckers were being destroyed. Disease warnings were being issued to Gulf residents and alarming toxin levels were beginning to be found in clean-up workers.

None of this would surprise inhabitants of either the Niger Delta or the Amazon rain forest. Despite the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 and the Exxon Valdez in 1989, Americans are only now starting to wake up to the fate that, for half a century, has befallen the Delta and the Amazon, both ecosystems at least as rich and varied as the Gulf of Mexico.

The Niger Delta region, which faces the Atlantic in southern Nigeria, is the world’s third-largest wetland. As with shrimp and oysters in the Gulf, so its mangrove forests, described as “rain forests by the sea”, shelter all sorts of crustaceans. The Amazon rain forest, the Earth’s greatest nurturer of biodiversity, covers more than two billion square miles and provides this planet with about 20% of its oxygen. We are, in other words, talking about the despolation-by-oil not of bleak backlands, but of some of this planet’s greatest natural treasures.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conspiracy Archives | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Big Oil makes war on the Earth

BP Paying Off Universities and Gulf Scientists En Masse to Hide Oil Spill Research Data from the Public

Posted by Admin on July 22, 2010

Posted by Alexander Higgins

July 16, 2010

http://blog.alexanderhiggins.com/2010/07/16/bp-paying-off-universities-and-gulf-scientists-to-hide-oil-spill-research-data-from-the-public/

If the people of the Gulf have had one advocate throughout the BP Gulf Oil Spill it has been the scientific community.

They have not been afraid to step and challenge BP and The Federal Government over the existence of underwater plumes, the dangers of the dispersants BP is using, or the safety of Gulf waters.

The scientific community has sounded the alarm on skyrocketing arsenic levels in the Gulf while the Government has kept quiet and has exposed the improper BP cleanup practices that are contaminating Gulf beaches.

Scientist have come forward to reveal the real location of the oil spill, exposed the lies about oil and methane plumes, and have alerted the public to severely low-balled flow rates.

The list goes on and on.

However those days may soon becoming to an end.

A startling new report from the Alabama Register reveals BP is trying to buy up Gulf scientists and Universities in mass to prevent them from releasing research data to the public.

For the last few weeks, BP has been offering signing bonuses and lucrative pay to prominent scientists from public universities around the Gulf Coast to aid its defense against spill litigation.

BP PLC attempted to hire the entire marine sciences department at one Alabama university, according to scientists involved in discussions with the company’s lawyers. The university declined because of confidentiality restrictions that the company sought on any research.

The Press-Register obtained a copy of a contract offered to scientists by BP. It prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists or speaking about the data that they collect for at least the next three years.

“We told them there was no way we would agree to any kind of restrictions on the data we collect. It was pretty clear we wouldn’t be hearing from them again after that,” said Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama. “We didn’t like the perception of the university representing BP in any fashion.”

BP officials declined to answer the newspaper’s questions about the matter. Among the questions: how many scientists and universities have been approached, how many are under contract, how much will they be paid, and why the company imposed confidentiality restrictions on scientific data gathered on its behalf.

More than one scientist interviewed by the Press-Register described being offered $250 an hour through BP lawyers. At eight hours a week, that amounts to $104,000 a year.

Scientists from Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and Texas A&M have reportedly accepted, according to academic officials. Scientists who study marine invertebrates, plankton, marsh environments, oceanography, sharks and other topics have been solicited.

The contract makes it clear that BP is seeking to add scientists to the legal team that will fight the Natural Resources Damage Assessment lawsuit that the federal government will bring as a result of the Gulf oil spill.

The government also filed a NRDA suit after the Exxon Valdez spill.

In developing its case, the government will draw on the large amount of scientific research conducted by academic institutions along the Gulf. Many scientists being pursued by BP serve at those institutions.

With its payments, BP buys more than the scientists’ services, according to Wiygul. It also buys silence, he said, thanks to confidentiality clauses in the contracts.

Richard Shaw, associate dean of LSU’s School of the Coast and Environment, said that the BP contracts are already hindering the scientific community’s ability to monitor the affects of the Gulf spill.

“The first order of business at the research meetings is to get all the disclosures out. Who has a personal connection to BP? We have to know how to deal with that person,” Shaw said. “People are signing on with BP because the government funding to the universities has been so limited. It’s a sad state of affairs.”

“This is not an agreement to do research for BP,” Wiygul said. “This is an agreement to join BP’s legal team. You agree to communicate with BP through their attorneys and to take orders from their attorneys.

“The purpose is to maintain any information or data that goes back and forth as privileged.”

The contract requires scientists to agree to withhold data even in the face of a court order if BP decides to fight such an order. It stipulates that scientists will be paid only for research approved in writing by BP.

The contracts have the added impact of limiting the number of scientists who’re able to with federal agencies. “Let’s say BP hired you because of your work with fish. The contract says you can’t do any work for the government or anyone else that involves your work with BP. Now you are a fish scientist who can’t study fish,” Wiygul said.

Perhaps even more startling is the scientists that BP isn’t paying off to keep quiet the Federal Government is.

A scientist who spoke to the Press-Register on condition of anonymity because he feared harming relationships with colleagues and government officials said he rejected a BP contract offer and was subsequently approached by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a research grant offer.

He said the first question the federal agency asked was, “‘is there a conflict of interest,’ meaning, ‘are you under contract with BP?’”

Other scientists told the newspaper that colleagues who signed on with BP have since been informed by federal officials that they will lose government funding for ongoing research efforts unrelated to the spill.

NOAA officials did not answer requests for comment. The agency also did not respond to a request for the contracts that it offers scientists receiving federal grants. Several scientists said the NOAA contract was nearly as restrictive as the BP version.

The state of Alaska published a 293-page report on the NRDA process after the Exxon Valdez disaster. A section of the report titled “NRDA Secrecy” discusses anger among scientists who received federal grants over “the non-disclosure form each researcher had signed as a prerequisite to funding.”

“It’s a very strange situation. The science is already suffering,” Shaw said. “The government needs to come through with funding for the universities. They are letting go of the most important group of scientists, the ones who study the Gulf.”

Posted in Pollution | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on BP Paying Off Universities and Gulf Scientists En Masse to Hide Oil Spill Research Data from the Public

New BP cap set for slow tests of how it holds oil

Posted by Admin on July 13, 2010

NEW ORLEANS – With a tight new cap freshly installed on its leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, BP planned gradual tests starting Tuesday to see if the device can stop oil from pouring into the sea for the first time in nearly three months.

The cap would be just a temporary solution, but it offers the best hope yet for cutting off the crude that has fouled the Gulf since theDeepwater Horizon rig leased by BP exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

Engineers will slowly shut down three valves that let oil flow through the 75-ton capping device to see if it can withstand the pressure of the erupting crude and to watch if leaks spring up elsewhere in the well. National Incident Commander Thad Allen said the process of closing the valves, one by one, would start later Tuesday.

If pressure inside the cap stays in a target range for roughly six hours after the valves are closed, there will be more confidence the cap can contain the oil, Allen told a news briefing at BP’s U.S. headquarters in Houston. That target range is 8,000 to 9,000 pounds per square inch, he said. Anything lower could indicate another leak in the well.

Allen and BP officials repeatedly cautioned there are no guarantees about the delicate work a mile below the sea. Allen urged Gulf Coast residents watching the possible fix evolve to be patient.

“They ought to be interested and concerned but if they hold their breath, they’ll run out of oxygen. I won’t be,” Allen told The Associated Press after the briefing.

The tests could last anywhere from six to 48 hours, Allen and BP said.

Kent Wells, a senior vice president at the oil giant, declined to talk about BP’s next steps until the test results are in hand.

“It’s not simple stuff. What we don’t want to do is speculate around it,” Wells said in a BP news briefing.

The cap’s installation after three days of undersea preparations was good news to weary residents of the coast from Texas to Florida, who have waited for BP to make good on its promise to clean up the mess. Still, even if the oil is stopped, the consequences are far from over.

“I ain’t excited about it until it’s closed off completely,” said James Pelas, 41, a shrimper working on his boat at a marina in Venice, La. “Oil’s scattered all over the place.”

The cap will be tested by closing off three separate valves that fit together snugly, choking off the oil from entering the Gulf. BP expects no oil will be released into the ocean during the tests, but remained cautious about the success of the system.

Pipes can be hooked to the cap to funnel oil to collection ships if BP decides the cap can’t take the pressure of the gusher, or if low pressure readings indicate oil is leaking from elsewhere in the well.

Even if the cap works, the blown-out well must still be plugged. A permanent fix will have to wait until one of two relief wells being drilled reaches the broken well, which will then be plugged up with drilling mud and cement. That may not happen until mid-August.

Even if the flow of oil is choked off while BP works on a permanent fix, the spill has already damaged everything from beach tourism to the fishing industry.

Tony Wood, director of the National Spill Control School at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi said the sloppiest of the oil — mousse-like brown stuff that has not yet broken down — will keep washing ashore for several months, with the volume slowly decreasing over time.

He added that hardened tar balls could keep hitting beaches and marshes each time a major storm rolls through for a year or more. Those tar balls are likely trapped for now in the surf zone, gathering behind sand bars just like sea shells.

“It will still be getting on people’s feet on the beaches probably a year or two from now,” Wood said.

But on Monday, the region absorbed a rare piece of good news in the placement of the 150,000-pound cap on top of the gushing leak responsible for so much misery.

Around 6:30 p.m. CDT, live video streams trained on the wellhead showed the cap being slowly lowered into place. BP officials said the device was attached around 7 p.m.

Residents skeptical if BP can deliver on its promise to control the spill greeted the news cautiously.

“There’s no telling what those crazy suckers are going to do now,” Ronnie Kenniar said when he heard the cap was placed on the well. The 49-year-old fishermen is now working in the Vessel of Opportunity program, a BP-run operation employing boat owners to lay boom, ferry coast guard officers and deliver supplies.

As of Tuesday, the 84th day of the disaster, between 90.4 and 178.6 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico

___

Online:

BP underwater video: http://bit.ly/bwCXmR

___

Weber reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Frederic J. Frommer in Washington, Matt Brown and Tom Breen in New Orleans and Holbrook Mohr in Belle Chasse, La., contributed to this report.

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on New BP cap set for slow tests of how it holds oil

From the Ground: BP Censoring Media, Destroying Evidence

Posted by Admin on June 20, 2010

by Riki Ott

Marine toxicologist and Exxon Valdez survivor

11 June 2010

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/from-the-ground-bp-censor_b_6 08724.html

Orange Beach, Alabama — While President Obama insists that the federal government is firmly in control of the response to BP’s spill in the Gulf, people in coastal communities where I visited last week in Louisiana and Alabama know an inconvenient truth: BP — not our president — controls the response. In fact, people on the ground say things are out of control in the gulf.

Even worse, as my latest week of adventures illustrate, BP is using federal agencies to shield itself from public accountability.

For example, while flying on a small plane from New Orleans to Orange Beach, the pilot suddenly exclaimed, “Look at that!” The thin red line marking the federal flight restrictions of 3,000 feet over the oiled Gulf region had just jumped to include the coastal barrier islands off Alabama.

“There’s only one reason for that,” the pilot said. “BP doesn’t want the media taking pictures of oil on the beaches. You should see the oil that’s about six miles off the coast,” he said grimly. We looked down at the wavy orange boom surrounding the islands below us. The pilot shook his head. “There’s no way those booms are going to stop what’s offshore from hitting those beaches.”

BP knows this as well — boom can only deflect oil under the calmest of sea conditions, not barricade it — so they have stepped up their already aggressive effort to control what the public sees.

At the same time I was en route to Orange Beach, Clint Guidry with the Louisiana Shrimp Association and Dean Blanchard, who owns the largest shrimp processor in Louisiana, were in Grand Isle taking Anderson Cooper out in a small boat to see the oiled beaches. The U.S. Coast Guard held up the boat for 20 minutes – an intimidation tactic intended to stop the cameras from recording BP’s damage. Luckily for Cooper and the viewing public, Dean Blanchard is not easily intimidated.

A few days later, the gig was up with the booms. Oil was making landfall in four states and even BP can’t be everywhere at once. CBS 60 Minutes Australia found entire sections of boom hung up in marsh grasses two feet above the water off Venice. On the same day on the other side of Barataria Bay, Louisiana Bayoukeeper documented pools of oil and oiled pelicans inside the boom – on the supposedly protected landward side – of Queen Bess Island off Grand Isle.

With oil undisputedly hitting the beaches and the number of dead wildlife mounting, BP is switching tactics. In Orange Beach, people told me BP wouldn’t let them collect carcasses. Instead, the company was raking up carcasses of oiled seabirds. “The heads separate from the bodies,” one upset resident told me. “There’s no way those birds are going to be autopsied. BP is destroying evidence!”

The body count of affected wildlife is crucial to prove the harm caused by the spill, and also serves as an invaluable tool to evaluate damages to public property – the dolphins, sea turtles, whales, sea birds, fish, and more, that are owned by the American public.

Disappeared body counts means disappeared damages – and disappeared liability for BP. BP should not be collecting carcasses. The job should be given to NOAA, a federal agency, and volunteers, as was done during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

NOAA should also be conducting carcass drift studies. Only one percent of the dead sea birds made landfall in the Gulf of Alaska, for example. That means for every one bird that was found, another 99 were carried out to sea by currents. Further, NOAA should be conducting aerial surveys to look for carcasses in the offshore rips where the currents converge. That’s where the carcasses will pile up–a fact we learned during the Exxon Valdez spill. Maybe that’s another reason for BP’s “no camera” policy and the flight restrictions.

On Saturday June 12, people across America will stand up and speak out with one voice to protest BP’s treatment of the Gulf, neglect for the response workers, and their response to government authority. President Obama needs to hear and see the people waving cameras and respirators. Until the media is allowed unrestricted access to the Gulf and impacted beaches, BP – not the President of United States – will remain in charge of the Gulf response.

Posted in Pollution | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on From the Ground: BP Censoring Media, Destroying Evidence

Scientists warn of unseen deepwater oil disaster

Posted by Admin on June 1, 2010

By MATTHEW BROWN | Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010 4:11 pm

Independent scientists and government officials say there’s a disaster we can’t see in the Gulf of Mexico’s mysterious depths, the ruin of a world inhabited by enormous sperm whales and tiny, invisible plankton.

Researchers have said they have found at least two massive underwater plumes of what appears to be oil, each hundreds of feet deep and stretching for miles. Yet the chief executive of BP PLC _ which has for weeks downplayed everything from the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf to the environmental impact _ said there is “no evidence” that huge amounts of oil are suspended undersea.

BP CEO Tony Hayward said the oil naturally gravitates to the surface _ and any oil below was just making its way up. However, researchers say the disaster in waters where light doesn’t shine through could ripple across the food chain.

“Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that,” said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist.

On the surface, a 24-hour camera fixed on the spewing, blown-out well and the images of dead, oil-soaked birds have been evidence of the calamity. At least 20 million gallons of oil and possibly 43 million gallons have spilled since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in April.

That has far eclipsed the 11 million gallons released during the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska’s coast in 1989. But there is no camera to capture what happens in the rest of the vast Gulf, which sprawls across 600,000 square miles and reaches more than 14,000 feet at its deepest point.

Every night, the denizens of the deep make forays to shallower depths to eat _ and be eaten by _ other fish, according to marine scientists who describe it as the largest migration on earth.

In turn, several species closest to the surface _ including red snapper, shrimp and menhaden _ help drive the Gulf Coast fishing industry. Others such as marlin, cobia and yellowfin tuna sit atop the food chain and are chased by the Gulf’s charter fishing fleet.

Many of those species are now in their annual spawning seasons. Eggs exposed to oil would quickly perish. Those that survived to hatch could starve if the plankton at the base of the food chain suffer. Larger fish are more resilient, but not immune to the toxic effects of oil.

The Gulf’s largest spill was in 1979, when the Ixtoc I platform off Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula blew up and released 140 million gallons of oil. But that was in relatively shallow waters _ about 160 feet deep _ and much of the oil stayed on the surface where it broke down and became less toxic by the time it reached the Texas coast.

But last week, a team from the University of South Florida reported a plume was headed toward the continental shelf off the Alabama coastline, waters thick with fish and other marine life.

The researchers said oil in the plumes had dissolved into the water, possibly a result of chemical dispersants used to break up the spill. That makes it more dangerous to fish larvae and creatures that are filter feeders.

Responding to Hayward’s assertion, one researcher noted that scientists from several different universities have come to similar conclusions about the plumes after doing separate testing.

No major fish kills have been reported, but federal officials said the impacts could take years to unfold.

“This is just a giant experiment going on and we’re trying to understand scientifically what this means,” said Roger Helm, a senior official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2009, LSU’s Chakrabarty discovered two new species of bottom-dwelling pancake batfish about 30 miles off the Louisiana coastline _ right in line with the pathway of the spill caused when the Deepwater Horizon burned and sank April 24.

By the time an article in the Journal of Fish Biology detailing the discovery appears in the August edition, Chakrabarty said, the two species _ which pull themselves along the seafloor with feet-like fins _ could be gone or in serious decline.

“There are species out there that haven’t been described, and they’re going to disappear,” he said.

Recent discoveries of endangered sea turtles soaked in oil and 22 dolphins found dead in the spill zone only hint at the scope of a potential calamity that could last years and unravel the Gulf’s food web.

Concerns about damage to the fishery already is turning away potential customers for charter boat captains such as Troy Wetzel of Venice. To get to waters unaffected by the spill, Wetzel said he would have to take his boat 100 miles or more into the Gulf _ jacking up his fuel costs to where only the wealthiest clients could afford to go fishing.

Significant amounts of crude oil seep naturally from thousands of small rifts in the Gulf’s floor _ as much as two Exxon Valdez spills every year, according to a 2000 report from government and academic researchers. Microbes that live in the water break down the oil.

The number of microbes that grow in response to the more concentrated BP spill could tip that system out of balance, LSU oceanographer Mark Benfield said.

Too many microbes in the sea could suck oxygen from the water, creating an uninhabitable hypoxic area, or “dead zone.”

Preliminary evidence of increased hypoxia in the Gulf was seen during an early May cruise aboard the R/V Pelican, carrying researchers from the University of Georgia, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi.

An estimated 910,000 gallons of dispersants _ enough to fill more than 100 tanker trucks _ are contributing a new toxin to the mix. Containing petroleum distillates and propylene glycol, the dispersants’ effects on marine life are still unknown.

What is known is that by breaking down oil into smaller droplets, dispersants reduce the oil’s buoyancy, slowing or stalling the crude’s rise to the surface and making it harder to track the spill.

Dispersing the oil lower into the water column protects beaches, but also keeps it in cooler waters where oil does not break down as fast. That could prolong the oil’s potential to poison fish, said Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

“There’s a school of thought that says we’ve made it worse because of the dispersants,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Jason Dearen contributed to this report from San Francisco.

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Scientists warn of unseen deepwater oil disaster

BP’s top kill effort fails to plug Gulf oil leak

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2010

By BEN NUCKOLS | Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2010 12:06 am

The most ambitious bid yet to stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history ended in failure Saturday after BP was unable to overwhelm the gusher of crude with heavy fluids and junk. President Obama called the setback “as enraging as it is heartbreaking.”

The oil giant immediately began readying its next attempted fix, using robot submarines to cut the pipe that’s gushing the oil into the Gulf of Mexico and cap it with funnel-like device, but the only guaranteed solution remains more than two months away.

The company determined the “top kill” had failed after it spent three days pumping heavy drilling mud into the crippled well 5,000 feet underwater. It’s the latest in a series of failures to stop the crude that’s fouling marshland and beaches, as estimates of how much oil is leaking grow more dire.

The spill is the worst in U.S. history _ exceeding even the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster _ and has dumped between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf, according to government estimates.

“This scares everybody, the fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far,” BP PLC Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said Saturday. “Many of the things we’re trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet.”

Frustration has grown as drifting oil closes beaches and washes up in sensitive marshland. The damage is underscored by images of pelicans and their eggs coated in oil. Below the surface, oyster beds and shrimp nurseries face certain death. Fishermen complain there’s no end in sight to the catastrophe that’s keeping their boats idle.

News that the top kill fell short drew a sharply worded response from President Barack Obama, a day after he visited the Gulf Coast to see the damage firsthand.

“It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimized by this manmade disaster are made whole,” Obama said Saturday.

In the days after the spill, BP was unable to use robot submarines to close valves on the massive blowout preventer atop the damaged well, then two weeks later ice-like crystals clogged a 100-ton box the company tried placing over the leak. Earlier this week, engineers removed a mile-long siphon tube after it sucked up a disappointing 900,000 gallons of oil from the gusher.

In the latest try, BP engineers pumped more than 1.2 million gallons of heavy drilling mud into the well and also shot in assorted junk, including metal pieces and rubber balls.

The hope was that the mud force-fed into the well would overwhelm the upward flow of oil and natural gas. But Suttles said most of the mud escaped out of the damaged pipe that’s leaking the oil, called a riser.

Suttles said BP is already preparing for the next attempt to stop the leak that began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April, killing 11 people.

The company plans to use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser, and then try to cap it with a containment valve. The effort is expected to take between four and seven days.

“We’re confident the job will work but obviously we can’t guarantee success,” Suttles said of the new plan, declining to handicap the likelihood it will work.

He said that cutting off the damaged riser isn’t expected to cause the flow rate of leaking oil to increase significantly.

The permanent solution to the leak, a relief well currently being drilled, won’t be ready until August, BP says.

Experts have said that a bend in the damaged riser likely was restricting the flow of oil somewhat, so slicing it off and installing a new containment valve is risky.

“If they can’t get that valve on, things will get much worse,” said Philip W. Johnson, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama.

Johnson said he thinks BP can succeed with the valve, but added: “It’s a scary proposition.”

Word that the top-kill had failed hit hard in fishing communities along Louisiana’s coast.

“Everybody’s starting to realize this summer’s lost. And our whole lifestyle might be lost,” said Michael Ballay, the 59-year-old manager of the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, La., near where oil first made landfall in large quantities almost two weeks ago.

Johnny Nunez, owner of Fishing Magician Charters in Shell Beach, La., said the spill is hurting his business during what’s normally the best time of year _ and there’s no end in sight.

“If fishing’s bad for five years, I’ll be 60 years old. I’ll be done for,” he said after watching BP’s televised announcement.

The top official in coastal Plaquemines Parish said news of the top kill failure brought tears to his eyes.

“They are going to destroy south Louisiana. We are dying a slow death here,” said Billy Nungesser, the parish president. “We don’t have time to wait while they try solutions. Hurricane season starts on Tuesday.”

___

Online: http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/site/2931/

___

Associated Press Writers Matthew Brown, Janet McConnaughey and Mary Foster in New Orleans and AP Radio correspondent Shelly Adler contributed to this report.

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on BP’s top kill effort fails to plug Gulf oil leak

There Was ‘Nobody in Charge’

Posted by Admin on May 29, 2010

[horizon_fire]Associated Press

In this aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana’s tip, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burned on April 21.

In the minutes after a cascade of gas explosions crippled the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, confusion reigned on the drilling platform. Flames were spreading rapidly, power was out, and terrified workers were leaping into the dark, oil-coated sea. Capt. Curt Kuchta, the vessel’s commander, huddled on the bridge with about 10 other managers and crew members.

Andrea Fleytas, a 23-year-old worker who helped operate the rig’s sophisticated navigation machinery, suddenly noticed a glaring oversight: No one had issued a distress signal to the outside world, she recalls in an interview. Ms. Fleytas grabbed the radio and began calling over a signal monitored by the Coast Guard and other vessels.

[OilCrisisLogo]

“Mayday, Mayday. This is Deepwater Horizon. We have an uncontrollable fire.”

When Capt. Kuchta realized what she had done, he reprimanded her, she says.

“I didn’t give you authority to do that,” he said, according to Ms. Fleytas, who says she responded: “I’m sorry.”

Part Two of a Journal investigation finds the doomed oil rig was unprepared for disaster, hobbled by a complex chain of command and a balky decision-making structure.

Part One: BP Decisions Set Stage for Disaster

An examination by The Wall Street Journal of what happened aboard the Deepwater Horizon just before and after the explosions suggests the rig was unprepared for the kind of disaster that struck and was overwhelmed when it occurred. The events on the bridge raise questions about whether the rig’s leaders were prepared for handling such a fast-moving emergency and for evacuating the rig—and, more broadly, whether the U.S. has sufficient safety rules for such complex drilling operations in very deep water.

The chain of command broke down at times during the crisis, according to many crew members. They report that there was disarray on the bridge and pandemonium in the lifeboat area, where some people jumped overboard and others called for boats to be launched only partially filled.

The vessel’s written safety procedures appear to have made it difficult to respond swiftly to a disaster that escalated at the speed of the events on April 20. For example, the guidelines require that a rig worker attempting to contain a gas emergency had to call two senior rig officials before deciding what to do. One of them was in the shower during the critical minutes, according to several crew members.

Editors’ Deep Dive: Fines, New Rules Loom for Oil Firms

The written procedures required multiple people to jointly make decisions about how to respond to “dangerous” levels of gas—a term that wasn’t precisely defined—and some members of the crew were unclear about who had authority to initiate an emergency shutdown of the well.

This account of what happened aboard the rig at the time of the explosions, which killed 11, is based on interviews with survivors, their written accounts, testimony to the Coast Guard and internal documents of rig operator Transocean Ltd. and well owner BP PLC.

In written responses to the Journal, Transocean said that the time between the first sign of trouble and the catastrophic explosion was too short for the crew to have done anything to effectively prevent or minimize the disaster. The company also said the rig’s chain of command was in place and “did not hinder response time or activity.”

At a Coast Guard hearing on Thursday, Jimmy Wayne Harrell, the top Transocean executive on the rig, acknowledged under questioning that a split chain of command on the platform could lead to “confusion” but it didn’t hinder emergency response. At the same hearing, Capt. Kuchta said that communications had not been a problem.

Under pressure to step up his response to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, President Obama vowed tougher regulations for the oil industry. Joe White, Evan Newmark and Dennis Berman discuss. Also, a discussion on why ‘Bluedog’ Democrats caused a new jobs bill to falter.

BP declined to comment on anything that happened April 20.

In the minutes before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, almost no one on board realized that serious trouble was brewing, other than a few men on the drilling floor—the uppermost of three levels on the massive structure. The sea was as still as glass. A cool wind blew faintly from the north. Capt. Kuchta was hosting two BP executives on board for a ceremony honoring the rig for seven years without a serious accident.

Nearly 20 men, many of them close friends, were operating the drilling apparatus, which already had bored through more than 13,000 feet of rock about 5,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. No alarms had sounded that day signaling gas on the platform.

At about 9:47 p.m., workers all over the rig heard a sudden hiss of methane gas. Methane is often present in the ground in and near reservoirs of crude oil, and managing the threat is a regular part of drilling.

Within two minutes, pressure caused by gas in the well pipe had spiked dramatically, drilling records indicate. A torrent of methane gas struck the rig. Power failed throughout the vessel. “Everything started jumping up and down and rocking us,” said Kevin Senegal, 45, a tank cleaner, in an interview.

The Final Moments

See a 3-D diagram of the rig as the explosion happened. Plus, read more about the Deepwater Horizon Victims .

Out on the water, 40 feet away, a 260-foot supply ship called the Damon B. Bankston was tethered to the rig by a hose. That ship’s captain said in an interview that he saw drilling “mud,” which is used as a counterweight to gas in the well, flying out of the drilling derrick like a “volcano.” He radioed the bridge of the Deepwater Horizon. He was told there was “trouble with the well” and the Bankston should move 150 meters back. Then the channel went silent.

Micah Sandell, a 40-year-old with a wife and three children, watched with alarm from the rig’s gantry crane, a massive device that moved across the main deck on a track. He radioed his crew to move away from the derrick.

Down on the deck, Heber Morales, 33, a former Marine from Texas, turned to the worker beside him. “Oh, man. That’s not good,” he said. The two moved away from the derrick.

Up in the crane, Mr. Sandell saw another worker on the deck, assistant driller Donald Clark, a 48-year-old former soybean farmer from Newellton, La., bolt for a set of stairs leading for the area where workers were fighting to control the well.

Daryl Peveto/LUCEO for The Wall Street Journal

Andrea Fleytas

Ms. Fleytas, one of only three female workers in the 126-member crew, was on the bridge monitoring the rig’s exact location and stability. Briefly, all the equipment went black, then a backup battery kicked on. She and her coworkers checked their monitors, which indicated no engines or thrusters were operational. Multiple gas alarms were sounding. One of the six huge engines that kept the floating platform stable was revving wildly.

No methane had been detected on the Deepwater Horizon before the massive gas jolt. So no “Level 1” gas emergency—according to Transocean safety regulations, when “dangerous” levels of gas are detected in the well—had been declared, according to crew members. That meant the crew had gotten no general alert to prepare for trouble and no order to shut down anything that might ignite the gas.

The rig’s regulations state that in the event of such an emergency, the two top managers—on April 20 they were BP’s senior person on the rig, Donald Vidrine, and Transocean’s installation manager, Mr. Harrell—were to go to the drilling floor and evaluate the situation jointly. But once the gas hit, neither was able to get to the area.

Transocean says the rig’s chain of command and safety standards were followed and worked effectively under the circumstances. Mr. Harrell didn’t return phone calls. BP said Mr. Vidine was unavailable to comment.

When the pressure in the well spiked suddenly, the drilling crew had limited options and little time to act. Jason Anderson, a 35-year-old “toolpusher” who was supervising the crew on the oil platform’s drilling floor, tried to divert gas away from the rig by closing the “bag,” a thick membrane that surrounds a key part of the drill mechanism. That didn’t work.

Four emergency calls were made from the rig floor to senior crew members in the moments before the blast, according to a BP document reviewed by the Journal. One went to Mr. Vidrine, according to notes about a statement he gave the Coast Guard that were reviewed by the Journal. The rig worker, who isn’t identified in the notes, told him the drilling crew was “getting mud back,” a sign that gas was flooding into the well. At that point, Mr. Vidrine rushed for the drilling floor, but already “mud was everywhere,” he told the Coast Guard.

At about 9:50 p.m., Stephen Curtis, the 40-year-old assistant driller working with Mr. Anderson, called the rig’s senior toolpusher, Randy Ezell, who was in his sleeping quarters, according to a statement given by Mr. Ezell to the Coast Guard. Mr. Curtis said that methane was surging into the well and workers were on the verge of losing control.

Two rig workers who later discussed the matter with Mr. Ezell said he was told that Mr. Anderson was going to trigger the blowout preventer, a 450-ton device designed to slice the drill pipe at the ocean floor and seal the well in less than a minute. If triggered in time, it might have been enough to prevent the explosions, or at least limit the scale of the disaster, say some drilling experts. Mr. Ezell prepared to go to the drilling floor, according to his statement.

Seconds later, the methane ignited, possibly triggered by the revving engine. That set off an explosion that blew away critical sections of the Deepwater Horizon, sheared off at least one engine, set large parts of the rig on fire and allowed oil to begin spewing into the sea.

Mr. Curtis, an ex-military man who enjoyed turkey hunting, and Mr. Anderson, a father of two who was planning to leave the Deepwater Horizon for good at the end of his 21-day rotation, almost certainly were killed instantly, according to other workers. So was veteran driller Dewey Revette, 48, from State Line, Miss. Six men working nearby also died. They included 22-year-old Shane Roshto and Karl Kleppinger, Jr., 38, from Natchez, Miss., and Mr. Clark, the assistant driller who had rushed to the stairs to help out.

Andre Damon/World Socialist Web Site

Tracy and Aaron Kleppinger, widow and son of worker Karl Kleppinger, at his funeral in Natchez, Miss., May 3.

Dale Burkeen, a 37-year-old Mississippian who operated the rig’s tall starboard crane, had been trying to get out of harm’s way when the blast hit. It blew him off a catwalk, other workers say, and he fell more than 50 feet to the deck, where he died.

A series of detonations followed. The motor room was wrecked. Steel doors were blown off their hinges. The wheel on one door flew off and struck a worker. Crew members were hurled across rooms, leaving many with broken bones, gashes and serious burns.

When he heard the first explosion, toolpusher Wyman Wheeler, who was scheduled to go home the next day, was in his bunk. He got up to investigate. The second blast blew the door off his quarters, breaking his shoulder and right leg in five places, according to family members. Other workers scooped him up and carried him toward the lifeboat deck on a stretcher.

The explosions knocked gantry-crane operator Mr. Sandell out of his seat and across the cab. As he fled down a spiral staircase to the deck, another explosion sent him into the air. He fell more than 10 feet, then got up to run. “Around me all over the deck, I couldn’t see nothing but fire,” he said in an interview. “There was no smoke, only flames.” He ran for the lifeboat deck.

From the bridge, Chief Mate David Young ran outside to investigate and to suit up for firefighting. After he encountered only one other crew member in gear, he returned to the bridge. Crew members say no significant firefighting efforts were undertaken. “We had no fire pumps. There was nothing to do but abandon ship,” said Capt. Kuchta, in testimony at a Coast Guard inquiry on Thursday.

As workers poured out of their quarters, many found their routes to open decks blocked. Ceiling tiles and insulation were blown everywhere. In some areas, fire-suppression systems were discharging carbon dioxide. Stairways were gone.

According to many workers, most crew members didn’t get clear direction from the bridge about what to do for several minutes. Finally, the public-address system began to blare: “Fire. Fire. Fire. Fire on the rig floor. This is not a drill.”

Many crew members couldn’t reach their designated assembly areas. Scores scrambled instead toward the only two accessible lifeboats, which hung by cables 75 feet above the water on one side of the rig. Each enclosed and motorized boat could hold about 75 passengers.

“The scene was very chaotic,” said worker Carlos Ramos in an interview. “People were in a state of panic.” Flames were shooting out of the well hole to a height of 250 feet or more. Debris was falling. One crane boom on the rig melted from the heat and folded over.

Injured workers were scattered around the deck. Others were yelling that the rig was going to blow up. “There was no chain of command. Nobody in charge,” Mr. Ramos said.

“People were just coming out of nowhere and just trying to get on the lifeboats,” said Darin Rupinski, one of the operators of the rig’s positioning system, in an interview. “One guy was actually hanging off the railing…. People were saying that we needed to get out of there.”

At one point, a Transocean executive was standing partly in the lifeboat, helping injured workers off the rig and telling Mr. Rupinski not to lower the boat yet. Rig workers piling in were shouting for him to get the boat down. “There had to be at least 50 people in the boat, yelling, screaming at you to lower the boat,” Mr. Rupinski recalled. “And you have a person outside saying, ‘We have to wait.'”

Terrified workers began jumping directly into the sea—a 75-foot leap into the darkness. Mr. Rupinski radioed the bridge that workers were going overboard.

A Transocean spokesman said the company hasn’t yet been able to determine exactly what happened in the lifeboat loading area.

Capt. Kuchta and about 10 other executives and crew members, including Ms. Fleytas, were gathered on the bridge, which was not yet threatened by fire. When word reached the bridge that workers were jumping, Ms. Fleytas’s supervisor issued a “man overboard” call.

The Bankston, now positioned hundreds of feet from the burning rig, picked up the call. Officers on that vessel had seen what appeared to be shiny objects—the reflective life vests on rig workers—tumbling from the platform into the water. The Bankston put a small boat into the water and began a rescue operation.

Messrs. Vidrine and Harrell, the two highest ranking executives, appeared on the bridge. Mr. Vidrine later told the Coast Guard that a panel on the bridge showed that the drilling crew, all of whom were dead by then, had already closed the “bag,” the thick rubber membrane around a section of the well.

But the emergency disconnect, which would sever the drilling pipe and shut down the well, had not been successfully triggered. Some crew members on the bridge said the disconnect needed to be hit, and a higher-ranking manager said to do so, according to an account given to the Coast Guard. Then another crew member said the cutoff couldn’t be hit without permission from Mr. Harrell, who then gave the OK. At 9:56 p.m., the button finally was pushed, with no apparent effect, according to an internal BP document.

Mr. Young, the chief mate who had left the bridge to survey the fire, told Capt. Kuchta that the fire was “uncontrollable,” and that everyone needed to abandon the rig immediately, according to two workers on the bridge. Under Transocean safety regulations, the decision to evacuate was to be made by Capt. Kuchta and Mr. Harrell.

Capt. Kuchta didn’t immediately issue the order, even though at least one lifeboat had already pushed away, according to several people on the bridge. At the Coast Guard hearing Thursday, several crew members said they weren’t certain who issued the abandon ship order or whether one was ever given. Capt. Kuchta didn’t return calls seeking comment, but in his testimony said it was obvious to all by that time that the crew should evacuate.

Alarmed at the situation, Ms. Fleytas recalled in the interview, she turned on the public-address system and said: “We are abandoning the rig.”

Capt. Kuchta told everyone who remained on the bridge to head for the lifeboats, according one person who was there.

One boat was long gone. When they reached the boarding area, the second was motoring away, according to several witnesses. Ten people were left on the rig, including Mr. Wheeler, the injured toolpusher, who was lying on a gurney.

The deck pulsed with heat. The air was thick with smoke, and the surface of the water beneath the rig—covered with oil and gas—was burning. Crew members attached a 25-foot life raft to a winch, swung it over a railing and inflated it. Mr. Wheeler was lifted in and several others climbed in with him. As the raft began descending, Ms. Fleytas jumped in. The remaining people on the rig, including Capt. Kuchta, leapt into the Gulf.

Once the life raft reached the ocean, it didn’t move, even as fire spread across the water. Some hanging on to its sides thought the heat of the rig was creating a draft sucking the craft back in. Terrified, Ms. Fleytas rolled out of the raft into the oil-drenched water.

“All I saw was smoke and fire,” she recalled. “I swam away from the rig for my life.”

Minutes later, the rescue boat from the Bankston plucked Ms. Fleytas and several others from the water. The crew of the small boat saw that a line attached to the life raft was still connected to the burning rig.

“Cut the line,” yelled one Bankston crew member. Another passed over a knife, the raft was cut free, and the last survivors were towed away from the fire. All told, the Bankston rescued 115, including 16 who were seriously injured. A Transocean spokesman says that the fact that so many survived “is a testament to the leadership, training, and heroic actions” of crew members.

The crew of the Deepwater Horizon watched from the deck of the Bankston as the drilling platform burned through the night. More than 24 hours later, it sank in 5,000 feet of water.

—Jason Womack, Ben Casselman, Russell Gold, Jennifer Levitz, Miguel Bustillo and Jeffrey Ball contributed to this article.

Write to Douglas Blackmon at douglas.blackmon@wsj.com, Vanessa O’Connell atvanessa.o’connell@wsj.com, Alexandra Berzon at alexandra.berzon@wsj.com and Ana Campoy at ana.campoy@dowjones.com

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on There Was ‘Nobody in Charge’

5 weeks of gushing oil: ‘Top kill’ plug readied

Posted by Admin on May 26, 2010

5 weeks of gushing oil: \'Top kill\' plug readied

By MATTHEW DALY | Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 11:09 pm

Marking five disastrous weeks, BP readied yet another attempt to slow the oil gushing into the Gulf on Tuesday as a federal report alleged drilling regulators have been so close to oil and gas companies they’ve been accepting gifts and even negotiating to go work for them.

President Barack Obama prepared to head to the Gulf on Friday to review efforts to halt the millions of gallons of contaminating crude, while scientists said underwater video of the leak showed the plume growing significantly darker, suggesting heavier, more-polluting oil is spewing out.

Ahead of his trip to the Gulf, Obama planned to address an Interior Department review of offshore drilling that’s expected to recommend tougher safety protocols and inspections for the industry, according to an administration official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the public release Thursday of the findings of the 30-day review Obama ordered after the spill.

BP’s next effort to stop the damaged oil well, perhaps Wednesday, will be to force-feed heavy drilling mud and cement into the well to plug it up. The tactic, called a “top kill,” has never been tried a mile beneath the sea, and company executives estimate its chances of success at 60 to 70 percent.

Also on Tuesday, in Jackson, Miss., 11 men who died in the April 20 rig explosion were honored at a somber memorial service with tributes from country music stars and drilling company executives.

“This is the one of the most difficult days for many of us here. But for the families of our 11 lost colleagues, this is just another of many difficult days,” said Steven Newman, CEO of Transocean Ltd., the Swiss-based owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

In Washington, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he has been laboring to root out problems at the agency that regulates offshore drilling. And the Justice Department said it will take all appropriate steps to ensure that those responsible for the disastrous blowout and oil spill are held accountable.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers continued feuding over a law that caps oil spill liability at $75 million for economic damages beyond direct cleanup costs. Democrats have tried to pass a bill raising the limit to $10 billion but have been blocked by Republicans.

A new report from the Interior Department’s acting inspector general found that an inspector for the Minerals Management Service, which oversees drilling, admitted using crystal methamphetamine and said he might have been under the influence of the drug at work.

The report cited a variety of violations of federal regulations and ethics rules at the agency’s Louisiana office. Previous inspector general investigations have focused on inappropriate behavior by the royalty-collection staff in the agency’s Denver office.

The report adds to the climate of frustration and criticism facing the Obama administration, although it covers actions before the spill. Millions of gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf, endangering wildlife and the livelihoods of fishermen, as scrutiny intensifies on a lax regulatory climate.

In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said he could not confirm or deny a criminal investigation was under way, but he said a team of investigators has been in the Gulf for three weeks. Justice lawyers have been meeting state officials and federal prosecutors to assure a coordinated effort, Weich said.

The Interior Department’s acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, said her report began as a routine investigation.

“Unfortunately, given the events of April 20 of this year, this report had become anything but routine, and I feel compelled to release it now,” she said.

Her biggest concern is the ease with which minerals agency employees move between industry and government, Kendall said. While no specifics were included in the report, “we discovered that the individuals involved in the fraternizing and gift exchange _ both government and industry _ have often known one another since childhood,” Kendall said.

Relationships took precedence over their jobs, Kendall said.

The report follows a 2008 report by then-Inspector General Earl Devaney that decried a “culture of ethical failure” and conflicts of interest at the minerals agency, which is part of the Interior Department.

Salazar called the latest report “deeply disturbing” and said it highlights the need for changes he has proposed, including a plan to abolish the minerals agency and replace it with three new entities.

The report “is further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry,” Salazar said. Several employees cited in the report have resigned, were fired or were referred for prosecution, he said, and actions may be taken against others as warranted.

The report covers activities between 2000 and 2008. Salazar said he has asked Kendall to expand her investigation to look into agency actions since he took office in January 2009.

Members of Congress and President Obama have criticized what they call the cozy relationship between regulators and oil companies and have vowed to reform MMS, which both regulates the industry and collects billions in royalties from it.

The report said that employees from the Lake Charles, La., MMS office had repeatedly accepted gifts, including hunting and fishing trips from the Island Operating Company, an oil and gas company working on oil platforms regulated by the Interior Department.

Taking such gifts “appears to have been a generally accepted practice,” the report said.

Two employees at the Lake Charles office admitted using illegal drugs, and many inspectors had e-mails that contained inappropriate humor and pornography on their government computers, the report said.

Kendall recommended a series of steps to improve ethical standards, including a two-year waiting period for agency employees to join the oil or gas industry.

One MMS inspector conducted four inspections of Island Operating platforms while negotiating and later accepting employment with the company, the report said.

A spokeswoman for Island Operating Company could not be reached for comment. The Louisiana-based company says on it website that it has “an impeccable safety record” and cites Safety Awards for Excellence from the MMS in 1999 and 2002. The company was a finalist in other years.

“Island knows how to get the job done safely and compliantly,” the website says.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the report “yet another black eye for the Minerals Management Service. Once again, MMS employees have been found culpable of performing shoddy oversight of offshore drilling. The report reveals an overly cozy culture between MMS regulators and the oil industry.”

Feinstein, who chairs a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department, said she will hold a hearing next month on Salazar’s plan to restructure the agency.

The oil industry and its allies say a higher liability limit would make it difficult for them to get insured and would especially hinder smaller independent drillers. But Democrats said such companies should be capable of paying for whatever damages they cause or taxpayers will get stuck with the tab.

“An independent is not a mom and pop. We are talking about major size corporations,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. “If they cause the damage, why should they not be responsible?”

___

Associated Press writers Ben Evans, Ben Feller and Erica Werner in Washington, Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., and Greg Bluestein in Covington, La., contributed to this story.

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on 5 weeks of gushing oil: ‘Top kill’ plug readied