Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Winds, Politics Blow Hard On Gulf Oil Spill Cleanup Efforts

If the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wasn't so potentially devastating both economically and ecologically, I would offer a cynical remark that three Democratic senators are displaying their infinite wisdom by proposing legislation that would increase the cap of $75 million to $10 billion for damages liable to oil giant BP.

Despite British Petroleum LCC Chief Executive Tony Hayward pledging in a conference call Monday that the company will pay all legitimate costs no matter what the final bill may be,  Florida Sen. Bill Nelson called that "baloney."

Nothing like putting the damage assessment in writing as a law than taking the word of an oil tycoon. That is the tack Nelson is taking along with New Jersey Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez.

Lautenberg was the only one of the three in Congress when it placed the $75 million ceiling for damages enacted by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund Act of 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska which cleanup costs amounted to $3.5 billion.

The three politicians aren't above using sound bites to excite their voters. Here's how MSNBC's First Read reported their comments:

"The bottom line is that oil spills can leave massive holes in the economy. If you spill it, you should have to fill it," said Menendez, the bill's primary sponsor. "There is no such thing as a 'Too Big to Spill' oil well, which is why we need this economic protection in place."

The "Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act" would also eliminate the $1-billion cap on claims against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. That fund is funded by an 8 cents tax on every barrel of oil produced or imported into the U.S. The senators say that fund is projected to have $1.6-trillion in it by the end of this year.
Their legislation would also eliminate the $500-million cap on damages to natural resources.

As for the spill, an estimated 210,000 gallons of gaseous crude oil is gushing from three separate leaks daily.
Strong winds from the south have hampered flight crews from dropping chemical spray on the slick, now the size of Nebraska, and underwater efforts using robotic submersibles to apply dispersants at the source. Hayward said crews hoped to install a shutoff valve 800 feet above the wellhead to stem some of the flow.

Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, said construction on the first of three multistory steel containment systems designed to drop over the main leak could be completed as early as Tuesday. When installed the system, which has never been used at this depth, would collect the oil and pipe it to a collection ship on the surface.

The winds are causing major concerns because they could push the slick into the Gulf of Mexico current which sweeps around the Florida keys northward along the Atlantic seaboard.

BP also began drilling a relief well late Sunday. That well will bore 18,000 feet below the seabed and eventually intersect with the well causing the blowout. Then, drilling fluid will be injected into the well in hopes of stopping the flow of oil and gas to the surface. That process will probably take up to two months to complete.

On land, the potential disaster offshore was threatening a multibillion-dollar tourist industry, stretching from the sports fishing camps in Louisiana eastward to Mississippi casinos and beaches in Alabama and Florida.
Louisiana estimates the economic impact of fishing tourism alone in the state at $757 million, and it is responsible for nearly 10,000 jobs.

The first evidence of possible killing of sea creatures was reported Monday as 23 sea turtles were washed ashore along Mississippi's 70 miles of shoreline. This is twice the kill observed by the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport for this time of year, said Moby Solangi, the group’s president and executive director.

Necropsies will be conducted by a team of four veterinarians. It’s unclear whether the deaths are related to the oil spill, which is still miles offshore.

“This is the stranding season for sea turtles, but the numbers we are seeing are unusually high. It could be the result of heightened awareness and reporting, but they may also have been affected by the slick and floated this way,” Solangi said.

Readers comments are welcome as long as they remain civil. We reserve the right to delete any comments that are vulgar, libelous and totally irrelevant to this posting. -- Jer 

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