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Gulf oil gusher ‘ten times worse’ than previously estimated, experts say

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, May 13, 2010 21:37 EDT
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Obama wants higher oil company taxes, pledges $58 million for cleanup efforts

Update (below): Democrats align to ban offshore drilling along west coast

So this is why BP’s release of video showing the Gulf oil gusher was mysteriously delayed.

According to a scientific analysis of footage from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, National Public Radio is claiming the growing ecological disaster is actually ten times worse than previously estimated, saying the rushing torrent of oil pouring into the ocean is equivalent to one Exxon-Valdez spill every four days.

That’s more than 70,000 barrels a day — when the U.S. Coast Guard had placed the figure at a seemingly modest 5,000 barrels a day.

Until this point in human history, the Exxon-Valdez disaster was just one of the worst oil spills ever, with nearly 11 million gallons of crude lost to the murky depths.

The Deepwater Horizon well has been jetting oil unabated for just short of one month at time of this writing. Already, the pollution exceeds a scale which most individual humans can fully grasp.

While government agencies continue to examine what led to the oil rig explosion that killed 11 people, environmental legal experts are already predicting that there will be criminal charges ahead for at least one of the companies involved in the oil spill.

A House energy panel looking into what might have caused the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico found yesterday that a vital piece of equipment intended to prevent such disasters had significant problems.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Wednesday outlined issues with the blowout preventer, a tool that BP claimed was ‘fail safe,’ that may have prevented it from engaging. The blowout preventer, reports the Washington Post, “Had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of a key component and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through steel joints in the well pipe and stop the flow of oil.”

It was also revealed during the hearing that BP knew “hours” ahead of the deadly explosion that there were problems with the oil well.

Meanwhile, rig owner Transocean, widely seen as one of three responsible parties including BP and Halliburton, is trying to limit its overall financial liability for the disaster, filing a court request on Thursday asking that it be held responsible for just under $27 million in damages, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Vessel owners routinely seek such protection following accidents at sea, lawyers say,” the paper added. “Still, the petition, filed in U.S. District Court in Houston, was likely to rile workers who escaped the burning rig and have filed suit or any of the estates of the 11 workers who died in the April 20 fire.”

Ultimately, costs associated to lawsuits stemming from the still-growing disaster are expected to far exceed even the costs of Hurricane Katrina. BP, already under siege by lawsuits, may even be facing a shareholder revolt. Teams of lawyers are already pooling their resources to serve affected parties in gulf states.

But that still hasn’t shut off the oil gusher. BP’s prior attempt at capping it with a dome failed, but the oil company said it would try its “top hat” idea in the coming days. If that fails, they plan to fire garbage at the well in hopes that it gets clogged.

In response to the crisis, President Obama has raised an initiative that will provide more than $50 million for oil cleanup and called for higher taxes on oil companies. Since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank, the U.S. government has allowed 27 different waivers for offshore drilling firms to avoid conducting environmental impact studies.

UPDATE: Democrats align to ban offshore drilling along west coast

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) issued a press release late Thursday insisting that their colleagues aid them in banning offshore drilling along much of America’s west coast.

“We simply cannot afford the risk posed by oil drilling off our magnificent coast,” Sen. Boxer said in a media advisory. “Nearly 570,000 jobs and our vital coastal economy would not survive an environmental disaster like the one we’re seeing now along the Gulf Coast.”

“Offshore oil drilling carries with it real risk,” Sen. Feinstein added. “The voters of California have voted that they don’t want offshore oil drilling, and I don’t want offshore drilling. Now we know what the potential is for catastrophe and we have to see that it never, ever happens again. Therefore, I’m very happy to join with Senator Boxer and others on this legislation to permanently ban all new offshore oil and natural gas along the West Coast.”

Senate Democrats failed Thursday in a bid to quickly pass legislation that would dramatically increase oil firms’ economic liability after massive spills like the one soiling the Gulf of Mexico.

The measure, pushed by lawmakers from New Jersey and Florida, would raise the ceiling on damages an oil company could have to pay for things like lost tourism or fishing revenue from 75 million dollars to 10 billion.

This video is from YouTube, broadcast May 12, 2010, showing oil spewing 5,000 feet down into the Gulf of Mexico.


CORRECTION: A prior version of this article characterized the Exxon-Valdez disaster as the ‘worst’ in history. That dishonor goes to the Gulf War oil spill, according to MSNBC.

With AFP.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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