Saturday, July 31, 2010

Debris in relief well sets back work on gusher

Posted: Jul 31, 2010 4:27 AM CDT
Updated: Jul 31, 2010 1:07 PM CDT

Associated Press Writers

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Tropical Storm Bonnie left crews working to plug the Gulf oil gusher a little memento that is expected to push their work back about a day.

Crews found debris in the bottom of the relief well that ultimately will be used to plug the leak for good, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the spill.

He said the sediment settled in the relief well last week when crews popped in a plug to keep it safe ahead of Bonnie.

"It's not a huge problem," Allen said, but removing the debris will take 24 to 36 hours and likely push a procedure known as a static kill back to Tuesday. That work had earlier been expected to begin late Sunday or early Monday.

The static kill involves pumping mud, and possibly cement, into the blown-out well through the temporary cap that has kept it from leaking for more than two weeks. Then comes the so-called bottom kill, in which cement pumped in from below the leak using the relief well will plug the gusher for good. The better the static kill works, the less time it will take to complete the bottom kill.

The blown-out well could be killed for good by late August, though another tropical storm could set the timetable back.

After the April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers, BP's blown-out well gushed an estimated 94 million to 184 million gallons of oil before the temporary cap stopped it July 15.

There are signs that the era of thousands of oil-skimming boats and hazmat-suited beach crews is giving way to long-term efforts to clean up, compensate people for their losses and understand the damage wrought. Local fishermen are doubtful, however, and say oil remains a bigger problem than BP and the federal government are letting on.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser emphasized that Saturday as he took a small group of reporters on a boat tour of an inlet at St. Mary's Point, about an hour south of New Orleans. Fresh globs of thick oil saturated the marshes and brownish tar balls were visible in the water.

Even in areas where no oil was visible on the surface, workers were pulling up heavily stained boom that had been placed there in recent days.

Nungesser offered to prove it to incoming BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley that there is still plenty of oil off the coast of Louisiana.

"Let me take him water-skiing out here and see if he comes up black," Nungesser said.

Dudley, who has been heading BP's oil spill recover efforts, rejected claims Friday that the impact of the spill has been overblown.

"Anyone who thinks this wasn't a catastrophe must be far away from it," he said in Biloxi, Miss., where he announced that former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt will be supporting BP's Gulf restoration work.

But relatively little oil remains on the surface of the Gulf, leaving less for thousands of oil skimmers to do. Dudley said it's "not too soon for a scaleback" in the cleanup, and in areas where there is no oil, "you probably don't need to see people in hazmat suits on the beach."

For help with the long-term recovery, BP has hired Witt and his public safety and crisis management consulting firm. Witt, who was FEMA director under President Bill Clinton, said he wants to set up teams along the Gulf to work with BP to address long-term restoration and people's needs.

"Our hope is that we can do it as fast as we can," Witt said. "I've seen the anguish and the pain that people have suffered after disaster events. I have seen communities come back better than before."

BP and Witt's firm refused to say how much Witt will be paid for his work.

Commercial fishermen, meanwhile, were allowed back on a section of Louisiana waters east of the Mississippi River on Friday after federal authorities said samples of finfish and shrimp taken fromthe areas were safe to eat.

About 70 percent of Louisiana waters are now open to some kind of commercial fishing, but state waters in Mississippi and Alabama remain closed and so do nearly a quarter of federal waters in the Gulf.

Seafood industry representatives hailed the reopening, but Rusty Graybill, a boat captain from Ysckloskey, La., who fishes for crab, oysters and shrimp, said "it's a joke."

"I'm pretty sure I'll go out and I'll get oil-covered shrimp. They capped this well and now they're trying to say it's OK," he said.

Graybill, a wiry 28-year-old with a leathery tan, made a 2-inch circle with his thumb and finger. "I'm still finding tar balls this big out there, and the boom is still covered in oil," he said.

Oil rig workers are struggling along with fishermen because a federal moratorium on new deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Those workers will be getting $100 million in aid that BP said Friday it will distribute through a Louisiana charity.


Harry Weber reported from Biloxi, Miss. Associated Press Writers Jason Dearen in Ysckloskey and Kevin McGill and Brian Skoloff in New Orleans contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Mississippi Sound reopens to commercial, recreational fishing

Posted: Jul 30, 2010 4:36 PM CDT
Updated: Jul 30, 2010 5:39 PM CDT

Charter boat captain reacts to reopening of Mississippi Sound

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Beginning at 6pm, the Mississippi Sound will reopen to all commercial and recreational finfish and shrimp fishing. All commercial and recreational crab and oyster fishing will remain closed in the affected area.

The reopening is being implemented after the completion of extensive sampling and testing conducted by the DMR, DEQ, NOAA and FDA. The FDA has advised that, following extensive sensory testing and chemical analysis, tissue samples tested indicate that seafood from these previously closed areas north of the barrier islands remain safe for consumption.

Due to a more complex testing process for crab and oyster, these fisheries will remain prohibited in the closed areas. Crab and oyster tissue samples are currently being tested, and as soon as data indicates they are safe for consumption, additional areas will be opened for these fisheries.

All waters north of the barrier islands that are normally open to shrimping will be open. However, DMR reminds shrimp fishermen who use skimmer trawls that a 30-minute tow time is in effect, unless they have a properly installed turtle excluder device.

All other regulations specific to each particular fishery will remain in full force and effect. Anglers are asked to avoid disturbing booms and oil spill-related activities.

Waters south of the barrier islands remain closed. Samples from that area have been collected and delivered to NOAA and FDA for analysis, and results are expected within seven to 10 days. Those waters will be reopened when sample results show that the fishery resources in that area are safe for consumption.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

Blobs in crab larvae characteristic of dispersant

Reported by: Shelley Brown, Weekend Anchor
Contributor: Tammie Mills, Photographer
Last Update: 7/30 11:24 pm

New findings back up the concern the dispersant BP used so widely may do more harm than the oil itself.

Researchers at Tulane say it appears they've detected a Corexit sort of fingerprint in the orange blobs found lodged in the bodies of tiny blue crab larvae collected from marshes that stretch from Texas to Florida. Researcher Erin Grey said the results, while not conclusive, are likely. She's waiting on two other independent tests.

On May 20, 2010, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said, "this is unprecedented volumes of dispersants used so far" when talking about the chemical dispersant known as Corexit being used to break down oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

That's what UNO's Martin O'Connell, Ph.D, who studies aquatic organisms that move through the water, says is the problem. That the volume of the EPA's pre-approved dispersant used to break down the oil probably turned it into small droplets, making it easy for a mix of oil and dispersants to finds its way under a shell.

He said, "something with a shell, a small shell, a shrimp or a crab.. it kind of gets stuck in some places, and if it can survive the actual toxicity and shed that shell, the oil can be released. If they can't survive though it's stuck there then there's a problem."

O'Connell said most components of oil won't bio-accumulate, meaning oil likely won't reach the food chain. As for Corexit, he said, "no one really knows."

"If you're a small fish and you eat 1,000 of these small crab larvae and all of them have oil or Corexit droplets in them they could get into the fish.. that little fish could be eaten and so on and so on," said O'Connell.

New Orleans attorneys, Stuart Smith and Mike Stag represent fishermen and cleanup workers who have left boats because they're sick. The attorneys have hired experts to test air and water quality samples, including Dr. William Sawyer, a toxicologist out of Florida, who said, "some of these chemicals are in great excess.. of risk-based lethal levels.. that the current hydrocarbon levels are capable of sterilizing our fisheries and estuary production zones."

O'Connell shares similar concerns:

He said, "I think they should be more concerned that we might be losing whole cohorts of these animals when they're very small, and we won't see the impact in the adults but three or four years from now. When we're expecting adult crabs coming into Lake Ponchartrain, there might not be as many out there."

Since so many fish and crabs feed on crab larvae, some scientists fear the oil and dispersant droplets threaten to kill critical areas in the Gulf of Mexico food web.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oil will no longer be dumped at Pecan Grove landfill

Posted: Jul 29, 2010 4:10 PM CDT

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - We have a significant development tonight about where all that oil is being dumped. BP and Waste Management have agreed to no longer deposit any more oil waste in the Pecan Grove landfill.

That decision was made after a two hour meeting between the two companies and representatives from Harrison County. Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner was part of those talks.

"I'm happy and I'm satisfied, and I'm glad we finally reached an agreement," he said.

Ladner was told that BP would try to recycle, or reuse the oil materials, if that was possible.

He stressed, "It will not go into any place in Harrison County."

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

Update for July 28th by Denise from Long Beach, MS

1. It's Not Over! - Update from Long Beach, MS - July 28

2. New Sand Washed Over the Oil in an attempt to Cover it Up

3. Tar Balls, Dead Fish and Children Swimming

4. There's No One Here! BP Disappeared - Long Beach, MS, July 28

5. Tar Balls and Sizzling Seas - Long Beach, MS, July 28

6. Very Strong Chemical Smell and Effervescent Waters - Long Beach, MS - July 28

7. Oil Looms Beneath the Surface - Long Beach, MS - July 28th

8. A Foul Stench is in the Air - Long Beach, MS - Part 8 of 10

9. Black Water Fishing - Long Beach Harbor, MS - July 28th

10. Perhaps Tomorrow??? I've Taken All I Can for Today - Long Beach, MS - July 28th

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

100 days of oil: Gulf life will never be the same

Photo by Denise Rednour

Associated Press Writers

GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) - A hundred days ago, shop owner Cherie Pete was getting ready for a busy summer serving ice cream and po-boys to hungry fishermen. Local official Billy Nungesser was planning his wedding. Environmental activist Enid Sisskin was preparing a speech about the dangers of offshore drilling.

Then the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of Louisiana, and in an instant, life along the Gulf Coast changed for good.

Pete spends her days worrying that the fishing industry may never recover. Nungesser has put his wedding on hold while he sits in meetings and argues with federal officials. And Sisskin continues to talk about the dangers of drilling - only now, people are listening.

The 100 days since the April 20 explosion have been a gut-wrenching time for folks who work, play and live along the Gulf Coast. The Gulf is a sanctuary for some, an employer for others, and now, a tragedy.

These are their stories.


The Restaurant Owners

A hundred days ago, business was booming at Barrios Seafood Restaurant in Golden Meadow, La., during Lent, when many of the Roman Catholics in south Louisiana forgo meat on Fridays or altogether. Customers were lined up for meals of crab, shrimp, fish and other seafood delivered hours after being pulled from the Gulf.

Alicia and Thomas Barrios believed their years of struggling to get the business going were finally paying off.

"We were saying, 'If business is this good now, just think what it will be like in the summer,'" Alicia Barrios said. "It was more money than we had ever made before in our lives."

They began sprucing up the restaurant, even adding a patio with visions of customers lingering there this summer. Then the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the oil began filling the Gulf.

"I'd say about 50 percent of our business was tourist, and they stopped coming immediately," Alicia said. "Seafood got hard to get, the price went up and people are worried about eating it."

These days, Thomas Barrios is working in the Vessels of Opportunity program, helping BP clean up the spill. Alicia Barrios has had to lay off two of her employees and the adjacent market is only open two days a week.

She's also thinking about how to change the menu if the price of seafood keeps going up and it remains scarce.

"I guess we could start serving pasta and hamburgers," she said. "But I'm afraid to spend the money on a new sign and menus. To be honest, if it wasn't for the BP check, we'd already be closed."


The Oil Worker

A hundred days ago, Joey Rojas was in a training session for his job as an oil pipeline production operator when he heard about the rig explosion. He figured it would be cleaned up in a few days, but soon he was worrying about the future of his entire industry.

Two weeks after high school graduation, Rojas, 24, bucked a long family tradition of commercial fishing to take a job in south Louisiana's oil country. He hasn't looked back - until now.

He worries about a push by federal officials to impose a deepwater drilling moratorium and new regulations.

"I'm starting to wonder what my future will hold. Will I have to look at another job? Will I be paying $5 or $6 at the pump?" he asked. "If a plane crashes, you don't stop flying."

Every so often, he thinks about another line of work. But there's little chance he'll find one that would pay as much while allowing him to live near his family in the fishing village of Port Sulphur.

"I think about looking for another job. And then I think about where I can make the money that I make now, unless I'm a lawyer or a doctor," he said. "You just can't go anywhere and make $80,000 a year."

He's confident the oil industry will survive, but he's afraid there won't be as many jobs. His 2-year-old son, Joey Jr., might not be able to follow in his footsteps.

"The jobs will be here, and the oil industry will outlast me," he said. "But my son is going to have to go to college and be something else."


The Sandwich Maker

A hundred days ago, Cherie Pete and her husband, Alfred, were expecting another steady stream of customers at the little store they used her life savings to build on the main road to Venice, La.

Everyone in town calls the 45-year-old mother of three "Maw" anyway, so she decided to name the place Maw's Sandwich and Snack Shop.

The store opened last year, attracting a devoted group of locals who came for po-boys and ice cream, plus weekenders who showed up from New Orleans in droves to rent campsites and charter fishing trips.

"And all of a sudden, we don't have them coming in," she said.

She's still doing decent business, still working 14 hour days, but it's not the same. Now most of her customers are contractors and cleanup workers.

"We've met people from all over the country, but it's not happy meetings. It's people coming in for work," she said. "It's not a typical exciting day at work for me any more, it's just another day at work."

Pete knows the business won't last when the cleanup ends.

"I'm just afraid the bottom is going to fall out," she says. "I'm not sure when. You don't know if it's today, or tomorrow or five years from now."


The Seafood Broker

A hundred days ago, Darlene Kimball was getting ready for a busy summer at her family's docks in Pass Christian, Miss., waiting for the buyers who would snap up hundreds of pounds of shrimp from the backs of boats, loading them into ice chests and hauling them back to giant freezers.

Now the place is empty, and the only boats she sees are the ones used by BP contractors cleaning up the spill.

Kimball's family has been in the Mississippi seafood industry since 1930, and she's never wanted to do anything else. But recently the 43-year-old had to do the unthinkable - draft a resume so she could look for another line of work.

"Everything's different," she said. "My life has gone from a fast-paced to nothing."

She misses the excitement of fishermen calling from the water announcing their latest haul, the awkward tourists trying to negotiate with boat captains for a piece of the catch. Most of all, maybe, she misses the sound of the seagulls circling the boats long before they come into town.

"There's nothing around me," she said. "My culture is gone, my livelihood is gone. What my grandfather and father have worked so hard to accomplish is in jeopardy."


The Activist

A hundred days ago, Florida environmental activist Enid Sisskin was scanning through oil spill data from the Minerals Management Service, preparing a speech on the dangers of offshore drilling.

Then the rig exploded, and she ended up rewriting the entire thing. She even told a halfhearted joke, about how future discussions of offshore drilling would have to begin with "a noun, a verb and the words Deepwater Horizon."

But Sisskin, who teaches in the public health program at University of West Florida, hasn't laughed much these past 100 days. She lives in the coastal community of Gulf Breeze and has long been a vocal opponent of Gulf drilling rigs.

"There's a constant knot in the pit of my stomach," she said. "I'm afraid for the future. Are we going to come back? Are our waters going to be clean enough? Are we going to have the sea birds? Can we comfortably say to tourists, come on down and get in the water and eat the fish?"

She's been busy this summer, teaching classes and giving talks to groups on the effects of oil and dispersants on public health.

There is one thing she doesn't say in her speeches: I told you so.

"This is something I never ever wanted to be able to say," she said. "It's vindication, but what a horrible way to be vindicated."


The Tourism Mogul

A hundred days ago, Frank Besson was raking in money at the tourism empire he's built on Grand Isle, a spit of land along the coast where vacationers have flocked for decades. What started with his father's souvenir shop expanded to a daiquiri bar across the street and a restaurant next door.

On a good day, he used to make $1,600. The shop's take last Saturday, when the island hosted a benefit concert? A measly $28.18, he says, pointing to the day's receipt.

His little monopoly is in shambles these days. The restaurant, known for a homemade pecan glaze that's perfect for chicken fingers, is closed indefinitely. The daiquiri bar opens late each night to a trickle of customers. And most days you can find Besson inside his locked souvenir shop, watching a tiny TV.

The only thing that's keeping the business afloat, he said ruefully, is that BP leased two of his rental homes and signed a catering contract with his shuttered restaurant.

Besson, 61, is still optimistic that business will turn around and he'll be able to reopen his restaurant. But for now, he's found himself in an unusual position. He's actually hoping for a storm.

"We want some rough weather so we can disperse and dissolve some of that stuff," he said. "I hate to say it, and I never thought I would say that, but that's what we want."


The Local Official

A hundred days ago, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser was busy with blueprints of fire stations, schools and community centers damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and still in need of rebuilding. He was planning his wedding to his longtime fiance, which they postponed after the storm.

"I had a life," Nungesser says.

Now, his life looks like this: Endless meetings with the Coast Guard. Endless arguments with federal officials and BP workers. And countless media appearances - he's been on Anderson Cooper so often alongside fellow Cajun James Carville that the trio are like the holy trinity of nighttime cable TV.

The new fire stations, schools and community centers have been put on hold. He's seen his mother twice in the past few months - and she lives right in the coastal Louisiana parish. And then there's the matter of the wedding. That's not happening anytime soon, not until life calms down and the fight is over.

For now, he's got a war to wage. That's how he characterizes his region's fight against BP, the federal government, the oil.

"A hundred days later, I can't look you in the eye and tell you who's in charge," he said. "I would not want to go to war with this team. Looking back, it's very sad that a lot of marshes and wildlife could have been saved if the federal government and BP had just listened to local people."


The Priest

A hundred days ago, the Rev. Mike Tran was busy ministering to his flock at the lone Catholic church on Grand Isle.

When he was first assigned, he dragged his feet. It was too small, too isolated and there was too little to do. Boy was he wrong.

He arrived in July 2005, weeks before Hurricane Katrina demolished much of the island. Parishioners at Our Lady of the Isle weathered that storm and the others that followed, butthe spill has presented a new challenge. It threatens their way of life.

Church attendance has been cut in half. Weekly donations are down $1,000. Yet more people than ever are walking up the stilted church's stairs to seek food and money.

The morning after the rig explosion, Tran held a mass to honor the 11 victims. Most church members hadn't even heard the news.

The last three months have been a whirlwind of prayer, charity and counseling.

"People are constantly in fear," he said. "They like to work, not to rely on a business for help. They were able to go out on the Gulf whenever they wanted to feed their families. They were living a worry-free life, knowing that the Gulf would provide."


The Dolphin Cruise

A hundred days ago, the website for Blue Dolphin Cruises in Orange Beach, Ala., beckoned visitors to come join the fun.

Cruise operators promised amazing sights: Ono Island's exclusive celebrity homes, stunning sunsets and, of course, dolphins.

On board the 47-passenger pontoon boat, tourists could buy soft drinks, water, beer, wine, snacks, as well as film, T-shirts, stuffed dolphins, visors, necklaces, and other souvenirs. Dolphin sightings were guaranteed, but guests were warned not to feed or swim with the sleek animals.

The website still says "Come join the fun."

The summer of 2010 has been anything but.

"Thank you for calling Blue Dolphin Cruises," the company's voicemail message now says. "We are currently closed due to the oil spill."


Foster reported from Golden Meadow and Lush from New Orleans.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Michigan Oil Spill Among Largest In Midwest History

MARSHALL TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Crews were working Tuesday to contain and clean up more than 800,000 gallons of oil that poured into a creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan, coating birds and fish.

Authorities in Battle Creek and Emmett Township were warning residents about the strong odor from the oil, which leaked Monday from a 30-inch pipeline that carries about 8 million gallons of oil per day from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc.'s affiliate Enbridge Energy Partners LP of Houston estimated more than 800,000 gallons of oil spilled into Talmadge Creek before the company could stop the flow. Enbridge crews and contractors deployed oil skimmers and absorbent booms to minimize its environmental impact.

"This is our top priority," said Enbridge spokeswoman Gina Jordan. "We're committed to containing the oil that has been spilled as quickly as possible."

As of Tuesday afternoon, oil was reported in about 16 miles of the Kalamazoo River downstream of the spill, Mary Dettloff, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Mich., said he discussed the spill Tuesday with President Barack Obama at the White House. He called the spill a "public health crisis," and said he plans to hold hearings to examine the response.

"The company was originally slow to respond and it is now clear that this is an emergency," Schauer told reporters on a conference call.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Enbridge said it had about 150 employees and contractors working on the spill. Local, state and federal agencies also were involved.

The cause of the spill was under investigation. The oil spilled into the creek, which flows northwest into the river. The site is in Calhoun County's Marshall Township, about 60 miles southeast of Grand Rapids.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement that his office has been in close contact with federal agencies to ensure that cleanup crews have the needed resources to complete the job as quickly as possible.

"For now, the focus is on limiting the damage and cleaning up the oil, Levin said. "It is also vitally important that the company responsible for the spill bear the costs of cleanup and that it compensate anyone who has suffered damages related to the spill."

Emmett Township officials warned the public to stay away from the river until cleanup work is completed.

Deceptive Appearance - Update from Long Beach, MS - July 27th

Although things "appear" to look better today, the odor is ominous in the air and there is a great amount of anxiety amongst the residents because there was no sign of BP equipment or workers yet there were tar balls, a light sheen, strong chemical odor and soiled booms. It was as if we all know it's far from over and we're afraid we'll be left with a mess again as we were in Katrina...only this mess won't go away and we can't rebuild it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Long Beach seeks more help to protect beach, harbor from oil

By Trang Pham-Bui

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - "We're seeing the smaller patties, but they're dry. So obviously they've been here for awhile," Long Beach Fire Chief George Bass said Monday.

After a weekend of stormy weather, Bass said there are fewer tar balls, but they're further up the beach and some have landed on the pavement at the Long Beach Harbor. Bass, who is also the city's Emergency Management Director, wondered why only a few clean-up workers were out Monday morning, combing the beaches for oily debris.

"We're worried about that, that they'll start deactivating some of the folks and we may have a smaller work force to clean up our beaches," said Bass. "They can't take care of the 26 miles in one day. They may have to work in sections and that's not what we want."

A BP spokesman said cleanup teams pulled back last Friday because of Tropical Storm Bonnie. But he said they returned on the beach Monday, although in smaller numbers.

"Here in Hancock and Harrison, we had about 100 people out today. But what they were finding was sporadic and light, and so there wasn't a whole lot to do," said BP Public Information Officer Richard Judy.

Bass said BP has also cut the number of recreational boaters in its Vessels of Opportunity program. He said the city needs smaller boats to check on booms, and if needed, clean up any oil around the harbor and rock jetties.

"We were called here two or three weeks ago, where we had a sheen coming in and large tar patties and we had no boats here being able to get out," said Bass. "We need some of the smaller boats in here to be able to work these enclosed areas, because our shelf here as everybody knows is shallow. It's not like you can bring a big boat in here."

Bass said the city also needs absorbent booms with curtains attached to catch the tar balls.

"We're afraid once the well's capped, everything as far as we could see might be over with, and we're still going to be dealing with what we're dealing with here this morning," said Bass. "We're going to have these tar balls, and we want assurance that they're going to be here."

"Our commitment and it has been from the beginning, and will continue to be is, deliver the resources that are necessary to clean up what needs to be cleaned up and that's what we're going to do," said Judy.

Chief Bass said the special booms and smaller boats can help protect other harbors in south Mississippi that are surrounded by shallow water. Richard Judy said he will talk to Bass about his concerns and what kind of protection his city needs.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

Wellhead hit, leaking oil and natural gas near Bayou St. Denis

by Staff and wire reports
Posted on July 27, 2010 at 9:15 AM
Updated today at 11:27 AM

JEFFERSON, La. – Officials in Jefferson Parish said that a wellhead was hit overnight and it is leaking oil and natural gas near Bayou St. Denis.

Councilman Chris Roberts said he is getting reports of oil in the marsh from the Jefferson Parish emergency management staff. Vessels of opportunity are en route to beginning cleaning up the area.

“There is a pretty good amount of oil flowing there,” said Roberts, though the exact amout is unknown. However, reports now say that mostly natural gas is spewing from the well.

The Coast Guard said the tow boat Pere Ana C. struck the wellhead near Mud Lake early Tuesday. The boat was moved to LaRose after the incident. No injuries were reported.
Boats are being stopped about a mile from the site by the Coast Guard and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, including the vessels of opportunity boats.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sharing a Blue Marble with Jean Michel Cousteau in the Gulf of Mexico

July 11, 2010 | Myrtle Cove, Belle Chasse, Louisiana

CNN producer note
wjnichols came up with this idea: 'People are asked to pass their blue marble forward to someone doing good for our ocean planet, so the marbles travel from person to person and stories are shared through various social media.'
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer

iReport —

I had the great pleasure to work with Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Ocean Futures team on their current film on the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our conversations about and experiences with the oil were sobering and heavy.

But we shared a nice moment, exchanging blue marbles.

I had been carrying a 100 year old blue clay marble for Mr Cousteau, in honor of his father's 100th birthday anniversary.

I was finally able to give it to him personally. Jean-Michel was noticably touched. It was an honor to be able to share one of 1 million blue marbles being shared all over the world with him personally.

Get One, Give One:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Methane in Gulf “astonishingly high” says U.S. scientist

June 24, 2010

As much as 1 million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some regions near the Gulf oil spill, enough to potentially deplete oxygen and create a dead zone, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.

“There are huge quantities of methane gas that are mixed in with oil spewing up from the seafloor,” said John Kessler, assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography of Texas A&M University who specializes in ocean chemistry.

“The mixture coming up is now about 40 percent methane and 60 percent oil from undersea of the Gulf of Mexico,” Kessler explained in an exclusive interview with Xinhua. “This means there are immense amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, being input into the Gulf.”

Kessler said that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while no doubt an environmental and economic disaster to much of the Gulf Coast, has been focus of criticism, but the eruption of methane gas has been ignored.

“We know that millions of years ago, there were vast undersea eruptions where methane gas escaped just like it is doing right now,” he adds. “It is thought that this methane eventually contributed to climate change millions of years ago, so this gives us a chance to study the methane from that perspective as we measure how much is entering the atmosphere today.”

Dr. Kessler is a chemical oceanographer who focuses on isotope biogeochemistry to elucidate how gases in the ocean cycle and ultimately participate in global climate change. He is leading a team composed of other Texas A&M University oceanographers as well as several graduate students to find out the effects of all this methane in the Gulf of Mexico.

Kessler explained that there could be oxygen draw-downs in these areas, as microorganisms consume the methane and oxygen in the water. This can create dead zones that impact the marine life.

“These are higher levels than we have ever seen at any other location in the ocean itself,” said Dr. John Kessler, a professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University.
Oil is a complex mixture of organic molecules, including methane. Methane is a simple component that is easily understood and tracked by scientists and can be used to quantify the size of the spill more accurately.

The team has been awarded 160,000 dollar grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to examine methane gas in the Gulf oil spill, believed to be one of the first such grants given to any Texas scientist.

Another question the team hopes to examine, according to Dr Kessler, is how much oxygen is being consumed in the Gulf waters by the methane gas.

“While some of the methane is emitted to the Earth’s atmosphere, other parts of it dissolve in the Gulf waters and are literally eaten by living microorganisms, a process which consumes oxygen,” explained the young vigorous oceanographer at A&M University, one of the world’s leading research institutions.

“We know that there are large areas of the Gulf that have oxygen-depleted waters that occur annually, and these are known as ‘the dead zone.’ But will these large amounts of methane make the dead zone areas even larger or the oxygen-depletion more severe? What are the links between methane and oxygen down there? We hope to find out,” Kessler said.

While showing great concern about the environmental disaster to at least 65 miles of shoreline already affected by oil making landfall in the marshes and wetlands, Dr. Kessler believes that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provides an once-in-a-lifetime window of research on many levels.

“No one would never ever be allowed to ‘dump’ this much methane and oil into the Gulf to replicate any scientific experiment,” he noted. “So this oil spill gives us a very rare opportunity to study what has happened in the past, and perhaps to give us some good clues about what might happen in the future.”

Reference: Dr. John Kessler, Professor of Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Please read his Biography and Qualifications at the link above.

Experts: Health Hazards in Gulf Warrant Evacuations

Thursday 22 July 2010
by: Rose Aguilar, t r u t h o u t | Report

When Louisiana residents ask marine toxicologist and community activist Riki Ott what she would do if she lived in the Gulf with children, she tells them she would leave immediately. "It's that bad. We need to start talking about who's going to pay for evacuations."

In 1989, Ott, who lives in Cordova, Alaska, experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdex oil disaster. For the past two months, she's been traveling back and forth between Louisiana and Florida to gather information about what's really happening and share the lessons she learned about long-term illnesses and deaths of cleanup workers and residents. In late May, she began meeting people in the Gulf with symptoms like headaches, dizziness, sore throats, burning eyes, rashes and blisters that are so deep, they're leaving scars. People are asking, "What's happening to me?"

She says the culprit is almost two million gallons of Corexit, the dispersant BP is using to break up and hide the oil below the ocean's surface. "It's an industrial solvent. It's a degreaser. It's chewing up boat engines off-shore. It's chewing up dive gear on-shore. Of course it's chewing up people's skin. The doctors are saying the solvents are making the oil worse."

In a widely watched YouTube video, from Project Gulf Impact, a project that aims to give Gulf residents a voice, Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist and campaigner with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, said Coast Guard planes are flying overhead at night spraying Corexit on the water and on land.

In the video above, author and journalist Summer Burke talks about her experience being sprayed with the toxic dispersant Corexit.

Ott shared these stories on a recent trip to the Bay Area with Diane Wilson, former Texas shrimper turned rabble-rousing activist. Ott was coughing and constantly clearing her throat during our two-hour conversation. "I can still smell the oil," she said.

Media outlets have been reporting on public health concerns and taking water quality samples, but Ott says they've only scratched the surface. "If I were in charge of the media, I would be talking be about public safety and public health every day. They should also be exposing the truth about how our federal standards are outdated and no longer protective of public health or worker safety. We knew in 1989 that OSHA had a loophole in it that's big enough to drive every single sick worker through. It exempts the reporting of colds and flus. That loophole has not been closed since Exxon Valdez."

Ott expressed her concerns during a May meeting with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson. "I was sitting across from her. She said, quote, 'I am walking a fine line between truth and hysteria. We don't want to create a panic.' This shows you how much our government is beholden to oil and cannot imagine a future without oil. We the people have got to imagine this. We have to. This is way worse than people think."

On Tuesday, Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard reported that Hugh Kaufman, a whistleblower who works as a senior policy analyst in the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, is accusing the agency of deliberately downplaying public health threats and its own role in regulating the chemicals being dumped into the Gulf "to protect itself from liability and keep the public from getting too alarmed."

The cause for alarm can't be more apparent. In addition to the health problems people are already experiencing, WKRG News 5 reporter Jessica Taloney recently collected samples of water and sand from five Alabama beaches and took them to a local lab to be tested.

Bob Naman, a chemist with nearly 30 years of experience, told Taloney that he wouldn't expect to see more than five parts per million of oil and petroleum in the water. The sample of the water taken in Gulf Shores beach, where adults and kids were swimming and playing, showed 66 parts per million. The sand had 211 parts per million. When Naman began to test the sample collected from Dauphin Island Marina, it exploded. "We think that it mostly likely happened due to the presence of methanol or methane gas or the presence of the dispersant, Corexit."

"What's going on in the Gulf is the same cover-up that was going with the 9/11 environmental issue," the EPA's Kaufman told Sheppard. "The Bush White House ordered EPA to lie about the environmental and public health situation at the World Trade Center because of economic ramifications. So they did."

On Democracy Now!, Kaufman accused the EPA of being "sock puppets for BP in this cover-up."

I called Kaufman to find out if he agrees with Ott's decision to sound the alarm about evacuations. The short answer? Yes. "If you're getting sick, it's because you're being poisoned," he said. "Those chemicals can cause cancer 20 years down the line and that's why Riki Ott is saying some areas have to be evacuated. That's true. We don't know how bad it is because the EPA is not doing adequate air testing. They're taking some measurements so they can tell the public that everything is safe [when in fact the public has] an increased risk of getting cancer and dying early. They're pawns in a money game."

Kaufman and Ott both say the media need to follow the money. The reason why the EPA is covering this up, they say, is because the cost to BP would be astronomical. "The dispersants hide the oil," said Ott. "If you put dispersants in the water, you don't know how much oil was really spilled. Oil fines are based on how much oil was spilled, so it's all about money."

If a group listed as a terrorist organization had caused the oil disaster, Kaufman says their assets would be seized immediately and their members would be arrested. So, why hasn't the US government seized BP's assets? Kaufman points to an April Vanity Fair article about Larry Fink, one of the most powerful men on Wall Street. Fink's BlackRock money-management firm controls or monitors more than $12 trillion worldwide, including a billion shares of BP. According to the article, BlackRock "has effectively become the leading manager of Washington's bailout of Wall Street," thanks to Fink's close relationship with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"It's all about money," says Kaufman. "Follow the money."

So, where does this leave the people whose lives have been destroyed by this disaster? Where does this leave the people who will face long-term health problems? Where does this leave our oceans, wildlife and environment? What's next?

"The more the public knows, the more the media cover it, the more the people tell officials to help, the better it is," says Kaufman. "It's a game of momentum."

Ott says she plans to stay in the area to assist where she can (getting respirators for workers is near the top of her list), get the truth out and continue the conversations and community meetings she's having with self-described Tea Partiers, evangelicals and fifth and sixth generation fisherman. "Here's something positive for you," she said. "I'm starting to hear, 'We all live on one planet and there really is a climate crisis here. This can't continue.' I'm having conversations with the Christian Right. I'm staying in an oilman's camper. Oilmen are starting to see that we need alternatives. I'm having tea party people come up to me and say, 'How can I help?' Corporations want to divide the nation into red and blue, Democrat and Republican. I'm seeing that crashing down. The frames are dissolving. The South is rising. I'm talking about the Deep South. This is the most hopeful sign I'm seeing."

Former shrimper Diane Wilson hopes to see more direct action. "This is a crisis. If this oil gusher does not move people to force a change in Washington, then it will never happen. We are seeing the end of the United States as we know it. If people hold their planet dear, they better be out there. Folks are too well behaved. We need to be unreasonable."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

BP tries to limit release of oil spill research

Associated Press Writers

HOUSTON (AP) - Faced with hundreds of lawsuits and a deep need for experts, BP has been offering some Gulf Coast scientists lucrative consulting contracts that bar them from releasing their findings on the company's massive oil spill for three years.

Some scientists say the contracts constrain academic freedom. A few signed the agreements, then changed their minds.

And others argue BP's contract is standard, and with little federal funding available to study the spill's impact, Gulf Coast researchers have few other options.

"I personally wouldn't care to have my research limited, but if I wanted to do work on the spill and this was the only way I could get out there and get working on it, I don't think there's a lot of alternatives," said Chris D'Elia, dean of the Louisiana State University School of the Coast and Environment.

BP confirms hiring more than a dozen scientists who have Gulf Coast expertise to assist with hundreds of lawsuits and assess the environmental damage caused by the spill.

"What we have askedis that they treat information from BP's lawyers as confidential, as is customary," said David Nicholas, a BP spokesman in London. "But we do not take the position that environmental data is confidential and we do not place restrictions on academics speaking about scientific data."

Still, American Association of University Professors President Cary Nelson said the three-year limitation could suppress information key to restoring the environment.

"Many scientists are turning down these contracts because they feel this research needs to be shared with the public, it needs to be shared with the government," said Nelson, whose group represents about 48,000 academics.

Researchers are asked to sign similar contracts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency charged with tracking the oil and assessing the damage.

Also in the mix is a hesitance to be associated with the company that's responsible for around 184 million gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Setting aside any good intentions, the idea of being affiliated with BP was not a good thing," said Joe Griffitt, a scientist at the Gulf Coast Research Marine Lab at the University of Southern Mississippi, who initially signed a deal with BP, then changed his mind.

In the end, each side will try to get as many experts on their team as possible, removing knowledge from the public domain, said Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane Law School in New Orleans.

"That's not wrong. Those are the rules of the game," he said. "It's the survival of a company, the survival of a crucial industry is at stake in a vital market area. This is serious business."


Schwartz reported from Los Angeles.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

More Deception - BP's altered photo distorts spill center activity

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - BP acknowledges it posted on its website an altered photo that exaggerates the activity at its Gulf oil spill command center in Houston.

The picture posted over the weekend showed workers monitoring a bank of 10 giant video screens displaying underwater images.

Spokesman Scott Dean says Tuesday that two screens were blank in the original picture and a staff photographer used Photoshop software to add images.

Dean says the company put the unaltered picture up Monday after a blogger for the website Americablog wrote about telltale discrepancies.

He says the photographer was showing off his Photoshop skills and there was no ill intent.

Dean says BP has ordered workers to use Photoshop only for things like color correction, cropping and removing glare.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hearings: 4 Transocean employees are no-shows, canceling Wednesday's proceedings

by David Hammer, The Times-Picayune

This is an update from the joint hearings by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement investigating the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion on April 20.

In a suprise announcement to conclude Tuesday's Marine Board investigative hearings in Kenner, four Transocean employees who were scheduled to testify Wednesday decided not to show up.

David Adler, an attorney representing two of the scheduled witnesses, said he is trying to review pertinent documents that the Coast Guard has not released to him. The other two witnesses are represented by attorney Steve London, who suddenly faces a conflict because a client of his was named a "party of interest" by investigators earlier Tuesday.

The scheduled witnesses were supposed to provide testimony about modifications to the rig's blowout preventer. They are: subsea supervisors Ray Odenwald, Jim McWhorter and Mark Hay and subsea superintendent Billy Stringfellow.

Adler represents Hay and Stringfellow, while London represents Odenwald and McWhorter. London also represents the rig's chief engineer Stephen Bertone, who testified Monday and was added to the list of parties of interest by the panel.

The panel was caught off-guard by the cancellations Tuesday and was forced to cancel Wednesday's hearing. The hearings will continue Thursday, Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen said.

Three other scheduled witnesses have previously refused to show up for one reason or another. One, BP company man Robert Kaluza, invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. His fellow company man, Donald Vidrine, has twice called in sick. And toolpusher Wyman Wheeler, a Transocean employee, didn't show up Monday because of an illness.

In addition, Transocean executive Daun Winslow had been scheduled to testify Wednesday and had to reschedule to August hearings in Houston.

Coast Guard spokesman Chief Mike O'Berry said Wednesday's four witnesses had all agreed to testify voluntarily, then withdrew. He said subpoenas compelling them to appear had not been issued yet.

Previous testimony:

BP ordered a lockdown sleeve, a device used to hold tubes in place inside the well, but never got to install it because, contrary to traditional practice, the company decided to wait to place it until protective drilling mud was removed.

Testifying before a Marine Board investigative panel, Ross Skidmore, a veteran subsea well supervisor in charge of installing the lockdown sleeve, said that in his 33 years in the business, he had always seen the device installed in the mud that sits in the well and guards against explosive kicks of gas.

"This was the first time I'd seen it (planned) after spacing out,"or replacing the heavy mud with lighter seawater, Skidmore said. He said he questioned the plan onboard, but he was new to the rig and deferred to others.

"I asked why couldn't we go ahead and do this in mud," he said. "I was told it wasn't going to happen. We were going to go through in the sequence we were given."

The testimony was yet another indicator that in spite of dangerous readings and confusing test results, BP and the rig crew didn't pick the safest procedures in the moments before the disaster.

Add to the lockdown sleeve issue BP's decisions to forego a test of gas presence in the well, to skip another test that would have measured the integrity of cement barriers and to ignore a warning from cementer Halliburton two days before the disaster that its well design brought a "SEVERE gas flow problem."

Skidmore said the rig workers saw the finish line on that well and may have relaxed.
"Everyone went to the mindset this job is through," he said. "When you run the last string of casing and there's a test done on it, you say, 'This job, we're at the end of it, we're going to be OK.' I'm not talking from supervisor's view, but from the working man's."

A Marine Board panel investigating the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion has released a list of "anomalies" it believes were experienced on the rig in the 36 hours leading up to the April 20 accident.

At noon on April 20, about 10 hours before the rig was engulfed in natural gas-fueled flames, 15 barrels of the drilling mud that guards against gas kicking upward bled back to the rig as pressure on the well below was released. The investigators say that was higher than the 5 barrels that typically come back during such a pressure release.

In the afternoon, the rig crew was pumping drilling mud out tosupply boat at the same time as seawater was being pumped into the well, a time-saving measure the investigators said made it hard to track fluid in the well hole -- fluid that is measured to determine if the well is safe for closing in.

Just before 5 p.m., investigators suspect the annular valve on the blowout preventer was leaking. A few minutes later when the drilling team ran the first of two key tests called a "negative pressure test," they measured 1,250 pounds per square inch of pressure on the drill pipe.

That was apparently a high level of pressure, but BP interpreted the negative test as a success, indicating it would be safe to remove the protective drilling mud and place a final cement plug in the hole.

But the investigators found that the pressure on the pipe was a cause of concern for some onboard the rig:

"Some employees recalled a disagreement between Transocean (the rig's owner) and BP on the rig floor about the negative test and pressure on the work string," the investigators' report states.

During the negative test, another 15 barrels of drilling mudescaped, and the investigators' report says the well kept flowing,which could have been an indication that the kill line on the blowoutpreventer that should have closed in the well was "plugging."

At 7:10 p.m., about two hours and 40 minutes before the explosions, the two top BP officials in charge, company men Robert Kaluza and Don Vidrine, were involved in a discussion about drill pipe "pressure anomaly," the report said.

In the final two hours, electronic data indicated the well, whichwas supposed to be static in preparation for temporary abandonment, kept flowing. Finally, about 20 minutes before the explosions, pumping of mud had stopped, but the investigators said there was a possible report from the rig's mud pits that mud was coming back from the well anyway.

David Hammer can be reached at

Transcript - PressBrief with National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen July 21, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater BP Oil Spill response briefing. A full transcript of the call follows:

July 21, 2010
3:30 p.m. EDT

Thad Allen: Good. Thank you. This morning I would like to focus on source control that’s happening at the well head in relation to both containment and the relief wells, and then the implications of the weather predictions that have been broadcasted for the last 24 to 48 hours about the tropical depression that’s in the vicinity of Puerto Rico this morning.

First of all, by way of process, you’ll see at mid-day – I sent a letter to Bob Dudley, the chief managing director of BP. I authorized BP to – I authorized BP to continue for the next 24 hours a well integrity test, but I also asked them that, given the potential for a tropical storm that could enter the Gulf of Mexico in the next 48 hours or so, to provide me an assessment of potential impacts regarding source control operations and other options to mitigate impacts of the weather. And I asked to have that no later than 8 this morning. That was actually delivered last night.

Over the night and through this morning, our science team in Houston has been talking with the BP folks regarding the various scenarios that might play out and the issues associated with the current lines of operation. I’m going to go through these each individually, and I’d be glad to take any questions you have for me after that.

First of all, just to remind you of some broad principles associated with severe weather that we’ve used as planning parameters throughout this hurricane season. As a general rule, we like to see vessels secured at a (departing) location prior to the arrival of tropical storm conditions at the sight. We have generally said that’s 120 hour threshold, but that is dependent on the storm track and the predictions by NOAA, who we are in close contact with.

Another thing to remember is we are in the process of trying to finish the relief wells and also have been assessing the feasibility and the efficacy of a static killer pumping mud down from the top. I’d like to give you the sequencing under which this would have to occur and explain that to you.

We believe that we should not start the static kill operation until we have installed the last liner run in the bottom of the relief well. And just to explain this, the relief well bore has been drilled, but the last final section that we want to reinforce with pipe needs to be done before we can begin the actual interception of the well. And that’s called running a casing line or basically a hollow steel pipe that reinforces a well bore.

Right now that well bore is open and does not have the casing in it. And it is not very far away from a place that we had concerns about regarding well integrity. And we did not want to run the risk of starting the static kill procedure, put pressure on the well, while we were in the proximity of a relief well that did not have the reinforcement of the casing.

So for that reason, the sequencing will be we have to have the casing line run first on the relief well before we would attempt a static top kill.

The other thing we want to understand is if for some reason we have to evacuate the area, we want to make sure that we optimize the amount of monitoring that we can do up to the time when we have to have vessels leave. This would include seismic monitoring, acoustic monitoring, and visual monitoring with ROVs. To that end, we are working with BP right now to understand the contingencies that would be associated with that.

As we have said before, if we have to evacuate the area to move off the area and then come back and redeploy, we can be looking at 10 to 14 day gaps in whatever our lines of operations are, whether it’s containment or actually proceeding with the drilling rig. So this is a significant issue of related weather driving in our lines of operation.

We are in discussion right now. There’ll be a principals call later on today among the cabinet officers that are involved and myself, and there’ll be briefings up to the White House later on today as we look at decision points that we’ll have to reach over the next 24 hours.

We are also mindful that there is a surveillance flight being flown into that depression today by NOAA that will give us some more information on the weather as we move forward.

If there is no impact of the weather, in other words if the path of the storm doesn’t appear to create impacts, you know, and we are free to go, we would go ahead and proceed with the well casing. And then that would be followed by making sure that it is cemented in and it is in place and securing the well bore.

At that point we could proceed to the static kill or the mud being (packed) in the top, if that is approved. And again, all those remaining options on the table are being discussed by our science team with BP in Houston as we speak.

With that, I’d be glad to take your questions.

Operator: Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad. We will pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster.
Your first question comes from the line of Kristen Hays from Reuters.

Kristen Hays: Yes. Good morning, Admiral. Have you extended the test again for another 24 hours?

Thad Allen: We’re not to that decision threshold. That’s being discussed as well. We will have a call mid-day with the principals, and we’ll make that decision and move ahead. I would tell you this, though, that the seismic testing, the acoustic testing, and the response of BP to anomalies that we’ve seen indicates that they’re in compliance.

But we will go through the review process and make an announcement later on today.

Kristen Hays: OK. Thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Colleen Long of the Associated Press.

Colleen Long: Hi, Admiral. If weather becomes an issue, is it – did you know enough about the integrity of the well that you can say if the cap would be left on? What would happen if we had to you know if you had to pull ships out of the way in order to you know get out of the way of the weather?

Thad Allen: No, it’s an excellent question. Our teams are also, in addition to dealing with the casing and the static kill—they’re also looking at the status of the wellhead itself if we have to evacuate it.

We believe – and let me lay off the background for you. As the vessels would slowly leave to exit the area, not be subjected to the storm, vessels that would be the last to leave that can move the quickest are the vessels that operate with the ROVs that do the surveillance. So if we had to leave the well capped and unattended right now, we’d probably be looking at a gap of three to four days where we would not have surveillance on scene.

So for that matter, the folks that are meeting in Houston this morning are discussing the impacts and the various options we may have, anywhere from leaving the cap in place knowing it’ll be unattended from three to four days to the risk mitigation measures, if there’s any other way we could do surveillance, or it would be in the best interest to reduce the pressure in the well by venting some of the hydrocarbons out into the environment during that three to four day period so that we would make sure that there was less risk to the wellhead.

As we have stated clearly from the start of the well integrity test, the pressure continues to rise about one pound per hour. It’s following a chart or a pattern that would indicate that the well has integrity, but the low pressure readings have created the dilemma whether or not we have a well depletion issue or there is a leak down there.

So this is necessarily going to be a judgment call based on the risks associated with the science team, and that will be discussed midday as well.

Colleen Long: OK. Thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Vivian Kuo of CNN.

Vivian Kuo: …you. But if the casing is supposed to be set by today and tomorrow, we could potentially see – and again, if it’s approved – an implementation of the static kill maybe by this weekend. Is that right?

Thad Allen: That’s correct. Based on the timeline once the casing is in place to protect the well bore from any interference with the static kill, we could potentially proceed. Again, but that will be taken after we have a discussion with the science team later today, and we’ll look what our options are.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of David Dishneau of the Associated Press.

David Dishneau: Just to clarify, did you say that if weather becomes a factor then plans could be delayed 10 to 14 days?

Thad Allen: That’s correct. If we have to evacuate the scene, we’ve always known, even when we were in a containment process, whatever operations that are going on out there, some of these vessels move very, very slowly so you need time to have them disassociate themselves from the mechanical structures they’re involved in and have at least 24 hours to exit the scene.

And again, some of these vessels only go four or five knots because they’re not intended to go at great speeds. And we’ve always said we need 120 hours in advance to be able to start redeploying them and then the total time off-scene would be anywhere between 10 and 14 days. That is the longest case scenario. We are evaluating whether or not we will have to do that based on the storm track.

And the results of the recognizance aircraft being flown today will be very important.

David Dishneau: So that means you would have to suspend work on the relief well as well? And could you give us some specifics on the relief well, how far it is from the problem well?

Thad Allen: Yes. We would have – any operations out there would have to be suspended, whether it was containment or the relief well. One of the reasons the casing is so important in the relief well right now is that horizontally we are between four and five feet away from the Macondo well. And we are generally in the vicinity where, if there was going to be a well integrity issue, it might be in that area of the Macondo well.

So the reason they want the casing in place before they do the static kill is that it will minimize the chance there could be an impact on the relief well when they do the static kill. For that reason, the casing has to go in first. And if we are forced to move off the site because of weather, the entire operation – including the last piece of the relief well which is laying that last casing in – could be delayed 10 to 14 days.

David Dishneau: Thank you.

Operator: Your next call comes from the line of Tom Fowler from Houston Chronicle.

Tom Fowler: Thank you. Good morning. Just wanted to clarify. So were you saying that for now while the weather situation is still being assessed, you’re, sort of the relief well, the next step of putting the casing in, is on hold?

And also wanted to – if you could clarify what could happen by this weekend because I was reading some reports that made it sound like the relief well was actually going to – could do an intercept by this weekend. But it sounds like you’re saying that you could just have the relief well where you want it in order to do the static kill by this weekend. Could you clarify that?

Thad Allen: The latter is correct. Once the casing is in place, the static kill could proceed by this weekend. What we have to do, once the casing is in place there are cements that have to harden, and it’s five to seven days before we then will begin to drill into the annulus.

So just to give you a sequence, the casing is in place. If we are going to attempt the static kill, we would do that and that could happen within about 48 hours. And then from five to seven days after placing the casing, we would be in a position to actually drill into the annulus and begin the process of the bottom kill.
Is that responsive?

Tom Fowler: Yes. I believe so. And but for right now in terms of starting the process of letting that last casing on the relief well, you’re sort of waiting for the next weather assessment before you move forward. Is that right?

Thad Allen: What we have done is we’ve placed a device into the relief well, called a packer, which is a device that is sent down into the well, the last piece of casing and then it expands and basically seals it off. It’s a sub sea containment device that’s – and we pulled the drill string back. We haven’t completely stopped operations on the relief well, but we’ve put this basically this plugging device in to hold what we’ve got right now pending the decision on whether or not we can remain on scene. If we remain on scene, we’ll remove that device and go on and proceed to lay the casing.

Tom Fowler: OK. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Dori Smith of Talk Nation.

Dori Smith: …to what the percentage of oil versus methane is in any of the leaks that have been identified, either on the cap area of the well or in any plumes nearby within the radius that you’ve been looking at, concerned, of course, about the pressure?

Thad Allen: We believe, especially around the current blowout preventer the capping stack that it is a mixture of the hydrocarbon column itself, which would be some mixture of oil, some natural gas, and some water. The existence of hydrates on the blowout preventer and the capping stack is indeed that there is gas there because the gas combined with the cold water and pressure is what produces hydrates. So there is some amount of methane gas in that.

The exact percentages, we have taken samples and they’re being analyzed ashore. Some samples done on scene based on the samples that were taken in around the wellhead indicated there was about 16 percent methane, but that needs to be validated by a shore test.

Dori Smith: And can you finally, on follow up, tell us is – has BP or has anyone identified new plumes or new leaks beyond what were already being studied in the vicinity?

Thad Allen: What we have asked BP to do is actually number these events so we can follow them. And I can take you through the general grouping of them. On the 17th of July, that was the event that we noted that was three kilometers southwest of the wellhead that we now have attributed to be in place before this started, probably attributable to another well.

Then we had a series of anomalies that were detected on the 18th of July. And these are just differences in density and return on both the seismic and the acoustic sensors. They were investigated with ROVs. They thought there might be some plumes. There were some gas bubbles brewing and they were followed up with ROVs. There were no other indications observed, and we closed out on those.

Following that, on the 19th is when we started to observe the bubbles around the current wellhead in the blowout preventer. Those have already been reported. And these are emanated from the wellhead itself through gaskets and seals that happen to be leaking.

And finally, we found another leak just yesterday in the BOP in the annular preventer. That’s the upper part of the BOP or the lower marine riser package. And that’s attributed to a leak in a gasket as well.

I think what you’re generally starting to see is from the blowout preventer—it’s been down there a long time under a lot of stress. And just like any other piece of equipment, we’re starting to see some small leaks around it. But that’s been it so far.

Megan Moloney: Operator, at this time we’ll take our final question.

Operator: OK. Your next question comes from the line of Jamie Burch of WKRG.

Jamie Burch: Admiral, I just wanted to ask, we’ve been hearing reports that the Vessels of Opportunity program is being deactivated because of concerns of what they’re calling a tropical storm, but right now it’s just a tropical depression, not in the Gulf. Is there any truth to that? And if so, why so early?

Thad Allen: I don’t believe we’re deactivating any Vessels of Opportunity because of weather right now. However, I will say this, local weather conditions – and they’re starting to get choppy out there right now. I think they’re looking at four to six foot seas at the wellhead itself.

There are conditions just by local weather, whether they’re thunderstorms or fronts passing through, that would make it difficult for Vessels of Opportunity to operate. And that’s almost a day-to-day tactical situation that would be made by our commanders on the ground.

But as it relates to this current tropical depression, there have been no decisions on Vessels of Opportunity related to that. It would be more local weather conditions.
The other issue is we’re starting to have trouble finding oil. We’ve had skimmers out there on the wellhead site for a number of days now, as many as 50 a day out there. And our skimmer capacity now is over 750, so we’ve got a lot of skimmers that are operating out there. And what we’re finding is that we’re really having to search for the oil in some cases.

But this is also allowing us some time to get the vessels in, get them fixed, get our boom fixed and redeploy and get ready if we’re going to have another event, and also continue to work on a short cleanup in the marshes.

Megan Moloney: That concludes our conference call today. Thank you, everyone, for joining us.

Operator: You may now disconnect.


BP temporarily corks relief tunnel

Posted: Jul 21, 2010 3:50 PM CDT
Updated: Jul 21, 2010 3:54 PM CDT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - BP has temporarily corked a relief tunnel deep beneath the sea floor as tropical rainstorms move toward the Gulf of Mexico. The tunnel will be used to blast mud and cement into BP's leaky well, hopefully sealing it off for good. But the threat of a tropical storm has prompted the oil giant to shut off the tunnel to keep it from being damaged. BP vice president Kent Wells says the relief well was plugged Wednesday morning and drilling was halted. Once the storm threat passes, they'll remove the plug and resume work. Forecasters say a tropical weather system likely will move into the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. It has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or storm within the next 48 hours.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

With Gusher Halted, BP Cuts 600 Skimmers

Company Removes Quarter of the "Vessels of Opportunity" from Gulf Cleanup as Containment Effort Progresses

(CBS/AP)- BP says it has reduced the number of boats skimming for oil in the Gulf of Mexico by more than a quarter.

The move comes after BP stopped oil from barreling into the Gulf of Mexico last week. It has some worried the oil giant is forgetting its promises to heal the region.

About 1,600 boats are now operating daily in waters off Alabama, Florida and Mississippi on any given day.

The director of BP's "vessels of opportunity" program in the region says it's 600 fewer boats than a week ago.

Matt Kissinger says less oil has been spotted in recent days, so fewer boats are needed to skim for the time being.

Earlier Wednesday, BP denied reports that chief executive Tony Hayward is planning to resign.

The Times of London reported Wednesday that Hayward will step down within 10 weeks

But BP spokesman Robert Wine told CBS News that Hayward, “remains CEO" and "has the full support of the board.”

The Times cited company sources as saying that Hayward could depart in late August or September. Some said that Hayward would need to step down to help BP defend against takeover bids by ExxonMobil or Royal Dutch Shell.

Hayward has taken criticism for both the company's bumbling response to the oil spill it sparked on April 20 and for his personal demeanor - stonewalling a Congressional committee and saying on an oi-stained beach that he "want[s] his life back."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Millions of dead fish wash ashore in Gulfport

View Video Here

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Millions of small dead fish have washed ashore in Gulfport, just east of Jones Park.

The fish are believed to be menhaden. Low oxygen levels in the water are typically to blame when large numbers of the tiny fish wash up dead. But it's not known if the fish kill is related to the oil spill.

Steve Phillips was on the beach Monday morning and said the nasty smell permeates Jones Park. He'll have more on efforts to clean up the mess and a possible cause later today on WLOX News and

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