Monday, November 29, 1999

BP intensifies efforts to halt Gulf oil leak

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Energy giant BP intensified efforts on Sunday to siphon oil gushing from a well in the Gulf of Mexico as pressure grew over the company's slow progress at halting an environmental disaster.The company said it inserted a pipe into the well's damaged riser and captured some oil and gas in a sign of apparent progress.Though it had to interrupt the operation, it was confident a new attempt on Sunday could be successful, a source close to the operation told Reuters."The concept can now be considered proven," the source said. In Saturday's attempt, the cord taking the oil to the surface became entangled.Gas was taken to the surface and flared. The oil entered the pipe, but didn't make it all the way to the surface, the source said.The fix involves guiding undersea robots to insert a small tube into a 21-inch (53-cm) pipe, known as a riser, to funnel the oil to a ship at the surface.Crude oil is gushing unchecked into the sea from a blown-out offshore well a mile (1.6 km) deep on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, threatening an ecological and economic calamity along the U.S. Gulf Coast.Officials said that so far the spill has had minimal impact on the shoreline and wildlife, but oil debris and tarballs were washing up on barrier islands and outlying beaches in at least a dozen places in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi."As nasty as they are, they are more manageable than a slick. They can be collected. They can be cleaned and we have crews doing that," Coast Guard Petty Officer Luke Pinneo said, referring to the latest discovery of tar balls on Grand Isle, Louisiana.Scientists and residents of the Gulf Coast say a far greater concern is the anticipated encroachment of oil into the environmentally fragile bayous and marshes teeming with shrimp, oysters, crabs, fish, birds and other wildlife.Workers in Louisiana were outraged at comments by BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward suggesting that the size of the spill was "tiny" compared to the size of the Gulf of Mexico."I think he's nuts," said Kenneth Theriot, 56, a shrimp boat owner and captain in the Louisiana town of Chauvin. "I don't care how big the Gulf is. It's all coming here."Shrimpers and fishermen have been idled by commercial fishing closures imposed because of the spill.Hayward's comments were published in Britain's Guardian newspaper.BP's initial attempt to insert the tube into the riser ran into trouble when the metal frame that supports the siphon shifted, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told reporters in Robert, Louisiana, on Saturday.The spill began after an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers. It threatens to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska as the worst U.S. ecological disaster ever.OIL PLUMESA New York Times report on Saturday said scientists had found huge oil plumes in the Gulf, including one as large as 10 miles (16 km) long, three miles (5 km) wide and 300 feet (91 metres) thick.It said the discovery provided evidence that the leak could be "substantially worse" than estimates given previously by BP and the government.BP is facing growing political pressure to prove it will pay for all of the costs related to the spill."The public has a right to a clear understanding of BP's commitment to redress all of the damage that has occurred or that will occur in the future as a result of the oil spill," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a letter to Hayward.Concerns have been raised about current U.S. law that limits energy companies' liability for lost business and local tax revenues from oil spills to $75 million.Randy Arceneaux, 28, a fisherman and deckhand in the Cajun village of Cocodrie, deep in Louisiana bayou country, said he was despondent about more than his lost income."The food that actually goes on my table came from these waters," Arceneaux told Reuters. "People are talking about the money they're losing. It's not just the money. It's the food, it's your livelihood. It's what you were taught, it's what you were raised on, and we'd like to pass it on to our kids."(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Matthew Bigg; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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