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Report: ‘Chaotic’ firefighting response might have sunk BP oil rig

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 10:14 EDT
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US keeps BP under pressure 100 days after Gulf disaster

The US government kept up pressure on BP Wednesday, 100 days after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill began, despite the ouster of the energy giant’s chief executive, who has been replaced with an American.

Meanwhile, Public Integrity reports, “The Coast Guard has gathered evidence it failed to follow its own firefighting policy during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and is investigating whether the chaotic spraying of tons of salt water by private boats contributed to sinking the ill-fated oil rig, according to interviews and documents.”

Aaron Mehta and John Solomon report,

Coast Guard officials told the Center for Public Integrity that the service does not have the expertise to fight an oil rig fire and that its response to the April 20 explosion may have broken the service’s own rules by failing to ensure a firefighting expert supervised the half-dozen private boats that answered the Deepwater Horizon’s distress call to fight the blaze.

An official maritime investigation led by Coast Guard Capt. Hung M. Nguyen in New Orleans is examining whether the salt water that was sprayed across the burning platform overran the ballast system that kept the rig upright, changing its weight distribution, and causing it to list.

“The joint investigation is absolutely looking into that, and whether it contributed to the sinking,” Capt. Ronald A. LaBrec, the Coast Guard’s chief spokesman, told the Center.

The joint investigation by the Coast Guard and the Interior Department is one of 10 formal inquiries since the offshore oil well blew out, killing 11 workers and unleashing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst spill in U.S. history. The disaster entered its 100th day on Wednesday.

While investigators have zeroed in on a series of missteps and ignored safety warnings aboard the rig that preceded the fiery explosion April 20, the question of what caused the platform to collapse into the Gulf two days later remains unanswered and could prove vital to ongoing legal proceedings and congressional investigations.

….

Testimony at Nguyen’s closed-door hearing in New Orleans showed confusion and disarray among and the rig crew members responsible for firefighting in the hours following the oil well blow-out and explosion. This chaotic scene is tracked minute by minute in a series of Coast Guard incident logs obtained by the Center for Public Integrity for a previous story.

More at Public Integrity

The White House showed little sympathy for Tony Hayward, whose departure was announced as BP revealed a record loss. US investigators have meanwhile started a criminal probe into whether close ties between BP and federal regulators contributed to April 20 disaster, the Washington Post reported.

The leaders of the government effort to control the oil spill were to give an update on the scope of the disaster to mark the 100-day anniversary.

But while a cap on the damaged well appears to be holding and collection efforts have drastically reduced the amount of oil visible in the ocean, officials say the scope of the disaster is still unknown.

“When you put somewhere between three million and 5.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico I don’t think anybody can understate the impact and the gravity of that situation,” Thad Allen, the retired admiral in charge of the government spill response, said Tuesday.

US experts say a lot of the oil on the surface has been naturally broken down. The political storm remains for BP, which on Tuesday announced that it would set aside more than 32 billion dollars to pay the costs of the disaster.

Hayward’s parting comments that he had been “demonized and vilified” immediately threatened BP’s efforts to rebuild its image under new American chief executive Bob Dudley.

“I don’t think that a lot of people in any country are feeling overly sorry for the former CEO of BP,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Hayward was also reported to have said “life isn’t fair,” prompting Gibbs to respond: “What’s not fair is what has happened on the Gulf, what is not fair is that the actions of some have caused the greatest environmental disaster that our country has ever seen.”

The oil giant also faces multiple investigations into the April 20 explosion aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 rig workers and sparked the devastating spill.

A team of investigators, dubbed the “BP Squad,” from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Coast Guard and other federal agencies are leading a new criminal probe into the spill, sources told the Washington Post.

Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP, and engineering giant Halliburton, which finished cementing the well less than two days before the rig exploded, are also targeted, the newspaper reported.

Officials are digging through tens of thousands of documents turned over by the firms, interviewing company officials and trying to determine who was responsible for various operations on the rig.

Authorities also are looking into whether company officials made false statements to regulators, obstructed justice or falsified test results for devices such as the rig’s failed blowout preventer, the daily wrote.

Several inquiries are already underway, including a Justice Department investigation and state criminal probes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

For three months, a massive slick has threatened the shores of Louisiana and other southern Gulf Coast states.

A cap stopped the flow on July 15 after between three and 5.2 million barrels (117.6 million and 189 million gallons) had gushed out.

After frantic efforts to skim and burn the crude on the surface — some 34.7 million gallons of oil-water mix have been recovered — crews are now having real difficulty finding oil to clean up.

“What we’re trying to figure out is where is all the oil at and what can we do about it,” said Allen. “What we’re seeing are mats, patties, small concentrations, very hard to detect, but they’re out there.”

Before the cap went on, some 25,000 barrels of oil a day were being skimmed from the thickest part of the slick near the well site.

By the time Tropical Storm Bonnie arrived last week, the take was down to 56 barrels a day.

“We know that a significant amount of the oil has dispersed and been biodegraded by naturally occurring bacteria” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the cap over the well has shut in leaking oil, operations to permanently seal the gusher are expected late this week.

A first effort will attempt to overcome the flow of oil from the top, by pumping heavy fluid then cement into the cap. That could stop the well altogether. But by mid-August crews will use a similar method to “kill” the well from below, via a relief well that intercepts the damaged well.

(with additional reporting by RAW STORY)

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
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