Friday, July 30, 2010

Senate Hearing On Gulf Natural Resource Damage Assessment

Jul 27: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works (EPW) Committee, Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Chaired by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), held a hearing entitled, "Assessing Natural Resource Damages Resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster." Witnesses included representatives from the: Southeast Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); Assessment and Restoration Division, Office of Response and Restoration National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Smithsonian Institution; Exxon Valdez Trustee Council; Ocean Conservancy; National Aquarium Conservation Center; and Jefferson Parish Council.
    The hearing came two days prior to a report in Time magazine article entitled, "The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been Exaggerated?" Time's environmental reporter Michael Grunwald reports that "the damage seems to have been limited. The number of bird kills is far lower than those occurring after the Exxon Valdez spill, much of the surface oil has already begun to break down in the warm Gulf waters and the sensitive wetlands of Louisiana have largely escaped serious oiling. . ." Grunwald report comes as many reports from the Gulf are indicating that surface oil is actually becoming hard to find and discussions are underway about scaling back the response and recovery operations. Also today (July 30), NOAA reported that the Southern Florida, the Florida Keys and the East Coast are not likely to experience any effects from the remaining oil on the surface [See related article this issue].
    Grunwald, who said the reality of his reporting surprised him. He said it was not what he expected to find. He said, "The scientists I spoke with cite four basic reasons the initial eco-fears seem overblown. First, the Deepwater oil, unlike the black glop from the Valdez, is unusually light and degradable, which is why the slick in the Gulf is dissolving surprisingly rapidly now that the gusher has been capped. Second, the Gulf of Mexico, unlike Alaska's Prince William Sound, is very warm, which has helped bacteria break down the oil. Third, heavy flows of Mississippi River water have helped keep the oil away from the coast, where it can do much more damage. And finally, Mother Nature can be incredibly resilient. Van Heerden's assessment team showed me around Casse-tete Island in Timbalier Bay, where new shoots of Spartina grasses were sprouting in oiled marshes and new leaves were growing on the first black mangroves I've ever seen that were actually black. . ."

    In a statement on the hearing Senator Cardin said, "BP and its partners are responsible for repairing the environmental destruction they have caused, in addition to the economic devastation. But if we can't trust BP to tell us how much oil had been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico for three months, why should we trust them when it comes to assessing the damage they have done to our environment?. We can't afford to have the same incomplete approach to assessment when it comes to cleaning our waters and restoring our fishing stocks or bird populations or any of the other critical ecosystem restoration tasks that lie ahead.

    "If we are going to get the restoration work done right and if we are going to hold BP and its partners accountable for the true extent of the damage they've caused, then we need an accurate and complete assessment. The answers developed through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment determine the size of the bill presented to BP and its partners. They shape the scale and scope of the restoration work done to repair the damage. This is a legal process, conducted by federal and state agencies, to identify how natural resources have been injured, the best methods for restoring them, and the type and amount of restoration needed to compensate the public.

    "The first priority in this disaster has been to stop the flow of oil from well. We're heartened by recent progress and hope the well will soon be sealed for good. We must ensure our responders have the resources and organization they need to remove the oil that's in the water and to protect the Gulf coast. But even when the oil is removed to the extent possible, it will not be enough to fully restore water and wildlife or compensate the public for the loss of these natural resources.

    Senator Inhofe said, "I am working on a report on the Administration's response to the BP incident thus far.  To date we have discovered numerous bureaucratic delays to mitigation and containment caused by federal entities, and I look forward to a thoughtful discussion on some of those issues today. After the tragic Exxon Valdez spill, which occurred over 20 years ago now, Congress worked diligently to pass the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) to help address many of the legislative gaps and shortcomings highlighted by that tragedy.  The OPA was created with the important goals of strengthening federal authority over oil spill removal actions, creating a federal liability scheme for addressing oil spills, and addressing the issues of removal costs and damages.  OPA established a solid framework for response that was missing during the Exxon Valdez spill. This hearing can help us examine the process of natural resource damage assessment currently underway and hopefully give us the necessary guidance to improve any inadequacies. . ."
    The FWS explained that when an oil spill occurs, response efforts and the natural resource damage assessment and restoration (NRDAR) process under the Oil Pollution Act and its implementing regulations begin immediately. The U.S. Coast Guard leads response activities related to marine and coastal oil spills while the U.S. EPA is the lead for inland or hazardous waste spills. Other Federal and state agencies assist in the process. FWS said, "The scope and magnitude of natural resource injuries and other impacts resulting from the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill are extraordinary and still not fully known. We do not know at this time the extent of the injuries, but we believe that in all likelihood, they will affect fish, wildlife and plant resources in the Gulf, and possibly in other areas across the country, for years or more likely decades to come."

    Dr. Robert B. Spies, President, Applied Marine Sciences; Former Chief Scientist, Exxon Valdez Trustee Council testified, "It is critically important that we do all we can to ensure that the pre- and post-impact status of the Gulf ecosystems, including contaminant characterizations, is being assessed and documented as rigorously as possible in at least the most biologically productive and sensitive parts of the Gulf coast. These areas include the estuaries and especially the marshes and wetlands behind the barrier islands along the coast, which are the breeding and nursery grounds of myriad aquatic, intertidal, and avian species. Given the widespread and intensive application of chemical dispersants, the very large amounts of oil on the ocean's surface, and the presence of large quantities of subsurface oil, it also is critical to be sampling oceanic surface, deepwater and bottom communities as well."

    Access the hearing website and link to testimony, statements and a webcast (click here). Access the Time article (click here). Access a video interview with Time's Michael Grunwald and Bernard Charbonnet, former chairman of the New Orleans Port Authority on Hardball with Chris Matthews (click here). Access a release from Sen. Cardin (click here).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dems, GOP & Interests Far Apart On TSCA Reform

Jul 29: The House Energy & Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, held a hearing on H.R. 5820, the "Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010," The legislation, introduced last week by Representatives Bobby Rush (D-IL), Chairman of the Subcommittee, and Henry Waxman (R-CA), Chairman of the full committee [See WIMS 7/23/10]. The bill would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 to ensure that the public and the environment are protected from risks resulting from chemical exposure.
    Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Steve Owens, Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, U.S. EPA; Richard Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund; Calvin M. Dooley, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Chemistry Council; Construction Specialties, Inc.; Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice; Beth Bosley, Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, Inc.; and Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group.
    Chairman Waxman, in an opening statement said, "This statute has been fundamentally unchanged for 34 years. When it has been amended, it is with new titles that address discrete issues and bypass the unworkable structure of the current law. TSCA has become a patchwork, not a framework. . . The result is that the U.S. is not leading the global move towards safer chemicals. Americans' public health is not being protected. And American businesses are behind the curve when they should be leading the world in innovative and safe chemical development."
    He said, "This bill will address the failures of TSCA and set up a flexible, responsive, and workable system for protecting health and the environment while promoting American jobs and innovation. Under this legislation, all chemicals will be subject to a safety review, and the burden of proof will be rightly shifted from EPA to chemical manufacturers. Basic safety data will be generated and made public. Commercial users of chemicals will get the information they need to make better business decisions. New policies will encourage the development of safer chemicals and create the green jobs of tomorrow."
    Full Committee Ranking Member, Joe Barton (R-TX) said in a statement, "As drafted, this bill would have sweeping ramifications for our economy. By regulating all entities that make, process, sell, or dispose of anything with a chemical in it, including consumer goods, it directly impacts every business, every home and every person in America and shuffles every level of a nationwide manufacturing economy that was struggling even before the recession drove unemployment to nearly 10 percent.
    Rep. Barton list four reasons why "I am so troubled by this legislation. First, the testing requirements in the bill are so over the top that they remind me of the same mistakes made in the toy bill. . . Secondly, the current administrator of the EPA says the current program dealing with new chemicals is a model program. Yet, this bill overhauls that model program and makes it harder instead of easier to get newer, safer products to consumers. . . "Thirdly, the so-called safety standard is neither safe nor standard because it is so impractical. . . Finally, the pre-emption provisions in the bill are just irresponsible. It incentivizes states to enact conflicting laws, which will only undermine the national marketplace and make products more expensive for everybody."
    Rep. Barton concluded, "Mr. Chairman, I think this bill is unworkable. I am open to being convinced otherwise by our witnesses, but that's going to be a steep order. Americans don't want unsafe chemicals. They also don't want feckless regulations that kill their jobs and make life harder. The federal government has a blind spot for how ordinary Americans live and knack for making it tougher on them through well-intentioned bills like this one."
    EPA testified that, "The time has come to bring TSCA into the 21st Century and give the American people the protection from harmful chemicals they expect. . . TSCA fallen behind the industry it is intended to regulate, it has also proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects. Mr. Chairman, the bill recently introduced by you and Chairman Waxman represents an important step toward providing greater protection for the health and safety of the American people, particularly our children. . .
    "This legislation would require that all chemicals be reviewed against a safety standard that appears to be based on sound science and reflects riskbased criteria protective of human health and the environment. It would squarely place the burden on industry to provide data to demonstrate that chemicals are safe. It would give EPA significantly greater authority to require any data necessary to assess the safety of chemicals and to quickly take action on chemicals which cause harm. . ."
    The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said, "Despite some improvements, there are still significant fundamental issues in the legislation that undermine its workability. . . There are many aspects of HR5820 that we feel need to be addressed. Today, I'd like to highlight three: the safety standard, the regulation of new chemicals and the regulation of products imported into the United States. . ." The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, Inc said, "On balance, however, we are sorry to say that the bill before us today is still overreaching and unworkable. It would have a substantial negative impact on a strategic American industry that is already fighting recession and foreign competition. . ."
    (EDF) said that many of the problems with TSCA and U.S. chemical regulation "would be largely or entirely ameliorated by adoption of the legislation. . . H.R. 5820, the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010.  It provides the framework for a comprehensive, systematic solution to a set of problems that until now have been addressed, if at all, through reactive, piecemeal actions. . .  In our view, H.R. 5820 strikes the right balance, by reforming TSCA first and foremost to fully protect human health and the environment (including the most vulnerable among us) . . ."
    Environmental Working Group (EWG) said, "H.R.5820, the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, is essential to fixing our broken toxic chemicals policy." Will recommending further strengthening measures, EWG said, "We support H.R. 5820 and the steps Chairmen Rush and Waxman have taken to ensure a strong safety standard, mandate stronger EPA authority to put the burden on industry to show a chemical is safe before it goes on the market promote prioritization, require a minimum data set and address abuses of confidential business information claims."
    Access the hearing website for links to opening statements, testimony, background and a webcast (click here). Access the statement from Rep. Barton (click here). Access a release from Rush-Waxman and link to the full text, a summary and a section-by-section summary (click here). Access additional information and background (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 5820 (click here).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rhetoric Heats Up On Scaled-Back Senate Energy Bill

Jul 28: Yesterday (July 27), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), announced the Democrats' scaled back energy bill [See WIMS 7/26/10] -- The Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act. Senator Reid and Senator John Kerry both indicated last week that they did not have any Republican votes to pass a more comprehensive energy and climate bill including the anticipated cap-and-trade program [See WIMS 7/23/10]. As previously announced, Senator Reid's bill would, ". . .ensure that BP pays to clean up its mess. Second, it would invest in Home Star, a bipartisan energy efficiency program that lowers consumers' energy costs and create jobs. Third, it would protect the environment by investing in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Fourth, it would reduce our dependence on oil by making investments in vehicles that run on electricity and natural gas. Finally, it would increase the amount that oil companies are required to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund."
    Now it appears that there will continue to be a major political battle between Republican's and Democrats over the provisions of the bill -- particularly those dealing with the BP oil spill. U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following statement today (July 28) regarding Senate consideration of what he called "a responsible approach to addressing the oil spill." Senator McConnell said, "It's now perfectly obvious that Democrats are doing their best to keep us from passing a serious energy bill before the August recess. Later today, we expect the Majority Leader to offer the Democrat alternative to the oil spill response bill that Republicans proposed last week. This is not a serious exercise.

    "All indications are that they don't intend to have a real debate about one of the most important issues we face. Anybody who's been around here for any period of time knows energy bills take at least a couple of weeks. So it doesn't appear that there's either time or willingness on the other side to debate this critical issue. We would have liked to have had a debate on ideas we've already offered. Our energy bill would give the President the ability to raise the liability caps on economic damages done by companies like BP -- without driving small independent oil producers out of business. It would lift the administration's job-killing moratorium on off-shore drilling as soon as new safety standards are met -- a moratorium that one senior Gulf State Democrat has said `Could cost more jobs than the oil spill itself.'

    "I mean, how can you have a serious energy debate without addressing a problem that a leading Gulf State Democrat says is costing more jobs than the spill itself? Our bill has a true bipartisan commission -- with subpoena power -- to investigate the oil spill, rather than the President's anti-drilling commission. Importantly, it also takes good ideas from Democrats, including Senator Bingaman's idea for much needed reform at MMS.  Surely we can all agree that this administration's oversight at MMS is in need of major reform. Our bill includes revenue sharing for coastal states that allow offshore drilling to help them prepare for and deal with disasters like the one we have right now in the Gulf.

    "So we've got our own ideas. We've got some of their ideas. Our bill doesn't kill jobs. It doesn't put a moratorium on production.  We're not interested in yet another debate about a Democrat bill in which the prerequisite is killing more jobs. Our bill would address this crisis at hand. Their bill would use the crisis to stifle business and kill jobs in a region that's in desperate need of jobs.  It was my hope that we could have a real debate about energy. Clearly, the Majority isn't interested in that debate." 

    In response to the Republicans, Jim Manley, spokesman for Senator Reid, released a statement saying, "Republicans want taxpayers to foot the bill for BP's disaster and allow BP to use endless legal battles to run out the clock on those whose livelihoods they destroyed -- just like Exxon did to victims of the Valdez spill. Republicans should come to their senses and remember that they represent the American people, not BP. Our responsibility is to make sure the Americans affected by this disaster are made whole -- not to protect BP's profits.
    "You would have to be incredibly out of touch to think we should bail out BP for the disaster they caused in the Gulf, yet that is exactly what Senate Republicans are proposing. Besides the fact that the Republican plan does nothing to create jobs, their proposal would essentially trust BP to pay back the millions of Americans whose livelihoods they've ruined. This defies common sense. These hard-working people just had the rug pulled out from under them, and Democrats believe they should not be forced to fight BP's army of corporate lawyers for years to come just to get the compensation they deserve."
    Today, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) joined Larry Laseter of the Home Star Coalition and Marilyn Heiman of Pew Environment Group at a press conference to discuss the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act. Senator Reid said, "There are many ways to end our addiction to oil and this bill is one of them. This bill creates jobs that can never be outsourced by strengthening companies that make energy efficiency products. It also saves consumers money -- about $1 billion a year over the next 10 years -- by cutting energy costs and giving them incentives to make their homes more energy efficient. And it changes the law to make it crystal clear that polluters -- not the taxpayers -- are going to be held responsible for cleaning up the Gulf."
    In the meantime, a coalition including may major environmental groups, issued a statement saying, "As we witness the worst industry-caused environmental catastrophe in our history, the deadliest coal mining disaster in 40 years, and sweat through the hottest first 6 months of any year on record, there's never been a more urgent time to move forward with a clean energy and climate policy. There's no doubt that big oil, big coal, their army of lobbyists and their partners in Congress are cheering the obstruction that blocked Senate action on clean energy and climate legislation. Their cheers are cheers for China taking the lead in clean energy jobs, the Middle East getting more of our money, and America getting more
pollution and fewer jobs.

    "At every opportunity, a minority of Senators who are in the pocket of America's largest polluters in the coal and oil industries chose obstruction over working together to solve America's energy and national security challenges. As a result of their actions, the big polluters will continue to reap record profits at the expense of Americans. As we look forward, one thing is clear: the Senate's job is not done. They must use every opportunity available to address clean energy and climate reform by working to limit carbon pollution and invest in new clean energy sources that are made in America, including protecting the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to crack down on polluters."

    Some of the major groups endorsing the statement included: 1Sky, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Union of Concerned Scientists, US Climate Action Network, and many, many more regional, state and local groups.

    The American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard issued a statement saying the Democrat's bill would "cost American jobs, slow economic growth and will place our energy security at risk." He said, "While full details of the Senate bill are not yet available, the liability provision sticks out as a jobs killer. Requiring an unattainable level of insurance coverage for domestic energy producers on the Outer Continental Shelf will force the vast majority of American companies out of U.S. waters, according to insurers. This would cut domestic production, kill American jobs, slow economic growth and cost billions in federal oil and natural gas revenues.

    "Even those that could self insure operations would see costs skyrocket, driving investments out of the United States, further hurting our economy, employment and energy security, according to a recent analysis by Wood Mackenzie. While we are glad that the bill recognizes the need to analyze the economic repercussions of the current deepwater moratorium, a better tack would have been to repeal it. Majority Leader Reid suggests his bill will create 150,000 new jobs, but our analysis indicates that failing to develop in the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico will cost more than that -- 175,000 jobs, the majority of them in already hard-hit Gulf Coast communities. Clearly, that is not a win for Americans."

    Access Senator Reid's announcement of the Democratic bill and link to a 24-page summary (click here). Access the statement from Senator McConnell (click here). Access Sen. Reid's response to Republicans (click here). Access a release from Senate Democrats including a list of some of the supporters of the bill (click here). Access the statement from the environmental coalition with a complete list of signers (click here). Access the API statement (click here).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 99 BP Oil Spill: Hayward Out; Dudley In; $32.2 Bln Cleanup

Jul 27: As recovery, "killing" and cleanup operations were beginning to resume following the halt of operation due to tropical storm Bonnie, the news of resigning BP executive Tony Hayward and BP's reporting of its 2nd quarter financial situation dominated the Gulf oil spill news. As expected, BP announced that, by mutual agreement with the BP board, Tony Hayward is to step down as group chief executive with effect from October 1, 2010. He will be succeeded as of that date by fellow executive director Robert Dudley.
    BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said, "The BP board is deeply saddened to lose a CEO whose success over some three years in driving the performance of the company was so widely and deservedly admired. The tragedy of the Macondo well explosion and subsequent environmental damage has been a watershed incident. BP remains a strong business with fine assets, excellent people and a vital role to play in meeting the world's energy needs. But it will be a different company going forward, requiring fresh leadership supported by robust governance and a very engaged board."

    Svanberg continued saying, "We are highly fortunate to have a successor of the caliber of Bob Dudley who has spent his working life in the oil industry both in the US and overseas and has proved himself a robust operator in the toughest circumstances."
Bob Dudley (54) is a main board director of BP and currently runs the recently-established unit responsible for clean-up operations and compensation programs in the Gulf of Mexico. He joined BP from Amoco after the merger of the two companies in 1998. He was president and CEO of BP's Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, until 2008. 

    Dudley said, "I am honored to be given the job of rebuilding BP's strengths and reputation but sad at the circumstances. I have the greatest admiration for Tony, both for the job he has done since he became CEO in 2007 and for his unremitting dedication to dealing with the Gulf of Mexico disaster. I do not underestimate the nature of the task ahead, but the company is financially robust with an enviable portfolio of assets and professional teams that are among the best in the industry. I believe this combination - allied to clear, strategic direction - will put BP on the road to recovery."
    On his appointment, Dudley will be based in London and will hand over his present duties in the US to Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America. Dudley said, "In this change of roles, I particularly want the people of the Gulf Coast to know that my commitment to remediation and restitution in the region is not lessened. I gave a promise to make it right and I will keep that promise."

    Hayward will remain on the BP board until November 30, 2010. BP also plans to nominate him as a non-executive director of TNK-BP.
BP said that under the terms of his contract Hayward would receive a year's salary in lieu of notice, amounting to £1.045 million ($1.6157 million).
    BP also announced that it will tell analysts today that it plans to sell assets for up to $30 billion over the next 18 months, primarily in the upstream business, and selected on the basis that they are worth more to other companies than to BP. This portfolio high grading will leave the company with a smaller but higher quality Exploration & Production business. Meanwhile BP continues to access new business opportunities, with new agreements in Azerbaijan, Egypt, China and Indonesia announced since the end of the first quarter.
    The company said it was taking a prudent approach to managing the balance sheet and its financial liquidity, in order to ensure that BP has the flexibility to meet all of its future financial obligations. As a result it plans to reduce its net debt level down to a range of $10-$15 billion within the next 18 months, compared to net debt of $23 billion at the end of June. BP said group capital spending for 2010 and 2011 will be about $18 billion a year, in line with previous forecasts. In reporting second quarter results, BP revealed that it is taking a charge of $32.2 billion to reflect the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including costs to date of $2.9 billion for the response and a charge of $29.3 billion for future costs, including the funding of the $20 billion escrow fund.  The company revealed the charge as it announced a headline replacement cost loss for the quarter of $17 billion.
    Access a lengthy release on Haywood and Dudley (click here). Access a release with details on the 2nd Quarter financials (click here). Access more details on the 2Q financials (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here). Access the Unified Command website which contains additional information (click here).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 98 BP Oil Spill: Storm Fizzles; Operations Resume; Hayward Out?

Jun 26: On July 23, with the guidance and approval of the National Incident Commander (NIC) and the leadership and direction of the Federal government, relief well activities at the MC252 well site were temporarily suspended because of potentially adverse weather associated with Tropical Storm Bonnie. Following the passing of the weather system, the DDIII drilling rig returned to the relief well site on July 24 and is taking steps necessary to reconnect with the well and resume drilling operations. These steps are expected to take a number of days. The DDII drilling rig is moving back into position, and will take steps necessary to reconnect to the second relief well. However, work on the second relief well has been suspended so as not to interfere with the first.
    On Saturday evening (July 24) Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill and NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco reported on the diminishing impacts from the weather conditions in the Gulf and said, "We do not expect any significant storm surge along the coast. Because Bonnie has weakened, all tropical storm warnings along the Northern Gulf Coast have been discontinued. We expect that Bonnie should help dissipate and weather the oil that's at the surface. It will spread the surface slick out and thereby lower oil concentrations. It's expected to break tar patches and tar mass into smaller tar balls which means faster weathering and faster natural biodegradation. It will also cause more natural dispersion, again lowering the concentration of oil in the water and making it more available to the natural bacteria that are in the water that do this natural biodegradation."
    On Sunday evening (July 25), Allen reported that there had been a series of meetings in Houston earlier in the day with the science team and representatives of BP with extensive discussion about the efforts to remobilize assets at the source and make preparations for installing the casing and moving on with the "static kill" (from the top) and the "bottom kill" (from the interceptor relief well). Apparently the current strategy is to do the static kill and then proceed with the well intercept. Simultaenously, the plan involves working toward a second vertical riser to recover more oil should a backup be necessary.
    Allen explained, "The time line is roughly over the next week. We'll return the Development Driller III, run the riser pipe, latch in [connecting the riser pipe to the lower marine riser package], pull that undersea containment device, which they call a packer. They're going to need to circulate conditioning fluids through that pipe line to make sure it's ready what they call conditioning a hole and then some time in the next week they'll be in a position to be able to run that (nine and sent to eight inch) liner which is the critical path right now to moving -- to move ahead. Once that liner is laid, they're going to put cement in and around it. And at that point the two vessels that were supporting the liner operation, one call the Blue Dolphin, the other is called the Center Line will redeploy and hook up with the Q4000. This is sometime -- this will be sometime during the week of 1 August. And they will set up for that to be able to inject the static kill and during that week of August subject to the (inaudible) I'm sorry the containment pipe being installed and cemented in then we will go to the static kill with the Q4000. So generally the next week will be prep, making sure everything is ready to go and getting the liner run and then the week of the first of August is when we will attempt to do the static kill and then move back and finish the bottom kill."
    Also, on July 26, BP issued a brief release stating, "BP notes the press speculation over the weekend regarding potential changes to management and the charge for the costs of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP confirms that no final decision has been made on these matters. A Board meeting is being held on Monday evening ahead of the announcement of the second quarter results on 27th July. Any decisions will be announced as appropriate." The speculation is that BP's Chief Executive Tony Hayward will be replaced by Bob Dudley who recently took over the job as BP's point man for the Gulf of Mexico cleanup job. BP current share price is approaching $39, and the market value is $121 billion.
    Access the late Sunday briefing of Allen for more details on the upcoming strategy (click here). Access a July 25 summary of operations (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here). Access the Unified Command website which contains additional information (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sen. Dems Back Off On Comprehensive Energy-Climate Bill

Sen. Dems Back Off On Comprehensive Energy-Climate Bill - Jul 22: At a news conference following a Senate Democratic caucus meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) admitted that Democrats cannot get even one Republican to work with them on crafting a comprehensive energy and climate bill; and thus, they are essentially scrapping plans for an attempt to pass comprehensive legislation before the August recess. Senator Kerry attempted to put a positive spin on the situation and indicated there was still hope and that the White House and the Majority Leader were still leaving the door open for a possible last minute compromise.
    As an alternative, Majority Leader Reid said in the next few days he will introduce a four part bill that will cover the following: it will hold BP accountable for the Gulf oil spill; it will decrease dependence on foreign oil by encouraging natural gas development and big rig truck conversion to natural gas (i.e. the Pickens Plan, see link below); it will legislate the "Home Star" energy efficiency program; and he said it would put money back into the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
    Senator Kerry said, ". . . we've always known from day one, that in order to pass comprehensive energy/climate legislation, you've got to reach 60 votes, and to reach those 60 votes, you've got have some Republicans. And as we stand here today, we do not have one Republican. I think that it's possible to get there. Even this morning, Senator Lieberman and I had a meeting with one Republican who has indicated a willingness to begin working towards something.  Harry Reid, today, is committed to giving us that opportunity, that open door over the next weeks, days, months, whatever it takes to find those 60 votes.

    "The work will continue every single day. In the meantime, as Senator Reid has just said, we have an obligation to the American people, we have an obligation to our country. And that is to respond to the oil spill in the Gulf.  And that's why Senator Reid is going to bring this admittedly narrow, limited bill to the floor because he's determined to do what we can in the timeframe that we have before the August break that will address some of our energy independence and some of the oil spill issues.

    "Now let me be crystal clear. As Senator Reid said, this legislation that he has proposed does not replace climate legislation. It does not replace comprehensive energy legislation. Now President Obama called me before this meeting and said point blank that he is committed to working in these next days at a more intensive pace together with Carol Browner and other members of the administration to help bring together the ability to find sixty votes for that comprehensive legislation. And the leader is committed to getting that comprehensive legislation to the floor as soon as possible, whenever that might turn out to be. . ."

    The Alliance for Climate Protection (ACP), founded by former Vice President Al Gore issued a statement saying, "It is wrong that hundreds of millions of lobbying and advertising dollars from big oil and dirty coal, along with obstruction by the Republican leadership in the Senate, have blocked debate and action on comprehensive climate and energy legislation. These policies will create millions of jobs, rebuild our economy, strengthen our national security and help solve the climate crisis. This opposition to action is in sharp contrast to the overwhelming support of the American people for a clean energy economy. Now President Obama and the U.S. Congress must recommit to utilizing every opportunity to reduce carbon pollution, invest in clean energy sources that are made in America, and support federal efforts to protect the health and welfare of the American people."

    The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) issued a statement saying, "While strong climate legislation is clearly needed, the proposals under consideration in the Senate (i.e. Senators Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act) fell well-short of what is needed to stop global warming. We are far better served by a science-based approach under the existing Clean Air Act, than by a bill that continues to subsidize and pander to the oil and coal industries and other polluters. Any bill truly aimed at dealing with global warming must build upon -- not gut -- our existing foundation of environmental protections. And, importantly, it must achieve the greenhouse pollution reductions necessary to avert dangerous climate disruption. That means reducing carbon dioxide concentrations that currently stand at 392 parts per million to below 350 parts per million. Nothing less will do."

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a statement saying, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today delivered very bad news to the American people. Continuing obstructionism by the Senate Republican leadership, joined by a handful of Democratic senators, is still blocking the way forward on essential clean energy and climate legislation. It is time for all of us to make our voices heard. Over the recess we must deliver a message to senators: 'Do your job!  We face a triple threat of a stagnant economy, ballooning energy insecurity, and a climate that is coming apart. Don't fail us. Don't fail our children. Don't come home again without having tackled these real and present dangers.'"
    The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a statement saying, ". . .The onus isn't only on the Senate. President Obama needs to step up his administration's efforts to make his campaign promise to address climate change a reality. We need the White House to aggressively push for real energy reform. Time is running out. We only have five and half weeks left in this session, and the oil and coal industries are doing what they can to delay legislation and weaken it. We can no longer afford to send a billion dollars a day overseas for imported oil. We can't afford more dirty air, dangerous mining accidents, and oil spilling into our waters. It's long past time for the Senate to protect our future. It should not let this opportunity slip away."
        Outspoken climate change critic, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works issued a statement saying, "I am pleased that Sen. Reid decided against resurrecting cap-and-trade legislation before the August recess, owing to the fact that several members of his own party have rightly indicated their opposition to it. Instead, he and other cap-and-trade supporters have signaled a desire to possibly consider such legislation when Congress returns in September. I very much look forward to having yet another debate in the Senate on jobs, consumers, the economy, and the serious damage that a national energy tax would inflict on all three." 
    Access Senator Kerry's transcript of the news conference (click here). Access a video of excerpts from the news conference (click here). Access the ACP statement (click here). Access the CBD statement (click here). Access a release from UCS (click here). Access a release from Senator Inhofe (click here). Access a posting from the Pickens Plan which includes links to major media coverage of the Senate Dem's announcement (click here).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

NAS Report Recommends Comprehensive GHG Management System

Jul 22: A report by the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council (NRC) indicates that a comprehensive national response to climate change should be informed by reliable data coordinated through climate services and a greenhouse gas (GHG) monitoring and management system to provide timely information tailored to decision makers at all levels. The report -- Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change -- recommends several mechanisms for improving communication about climate science and responses and calls for a systematic framework for making and evaluating decisions about how to effectively manage the risks posed by climate change. 

    Diana Liverman, co-chair of the panel that wrote the report, co-director of the Institute of Environment at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a senior research fellow at Oxford University said, "Global climate change is a long-term challenge that will require all of us to make many decisions about how to respond. To make choices that are based on the best available science, government agencies, the private sector, and individuals need clear, accessible information about what is happening to the climate and to emissions. We also need information on the implications of different options -- especially to assess whether policies are effective." The report is part of a congressionally requested suite of studies known as America's Climate Choices, which also includes three other recently released reports.  An overarching report to be released later this year will build on all four reports and other materials to offer a scientific framework for shaping the policy choices underlying the nation's efforts to confront climate change. 


    The report indicates that the Federal government needs to establish information and reporting systems -- such as climate services and a greenhouse-gas accounting system -- that provide a range of information on climate change and variability, observed changes and causes, potential impacts, and strategies for limiting emissions or adapting to impacts. Although the report does not specify a particular agency to lead Federal efforts, it emphasizes the importance of coordination across the Federal government and with state, local and private sector decision makers. Leadership might come through executive orders, existing units such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy, an expanded U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, or new entities.


    The report says the new national system for providing climate services should inform decision makers and assist them in managing climate-related risks. It would coordinate data among several agencies and incorporate regional expertise. Information should be timely, authoritative, and based on rigorous natural and social science research and tailored to government- and private-sector users at the national, regional, and local levels, the report says. For example, agricultural producers trying to decide which crops to grow need timely seasonal forecasts, data on likely outbreaks of diseases or pests, and advice about long-term strategies for adapting to climate impacts; and forest and park managers need information to control fires and plan for longer-term ecosystem management.


    The report identifies several key functions that should be included in climate services, such as enhanced observations and vulnerability analyses on a regional scale, sustained interaction with stakeholders and research to understand their needs, an international information component that provides data on global climate observations and impacts, and a central accessible web portal that encourages sharing of information. These functions might be overlooked if the services are based only on existing Federal capabilities.


    The proposed comprehensive GHG management system for monitoring, reporting, and verifying emissions should include a unified accounting protocol and a registry to track emissions at a detailed level. Monitoring is essential for developing effective emissions policies and verifying claims that emissions have been reduced, the report says. Such a system could build on the existing expertise of agencies such as the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The systems should also be designed to evaluate and assess state and local government and private-sector responses, many of which already are occurring.  For example, more than half of Americans live in states, counties, and cities that have enacted a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and many private companies are taking significant steps to reduce their carbon footprints.  Federal policies should not unnecessarily supersede measures already being taken regionally or locally.


    According to the report, to effectively manage the serious risks posed by climate change, decision makers need to account for many uncertainties about the severity of impacts and options for responding to them and be able to modify their choices based on new information and experience. Therefore, decision makers in the public and private sectors need to implement an iterative risk management strategy that adapts to new information, conditions, or technologies that could affect climate change policies. To that end, the government could also review and revise programs such as Federal crop and flood insurance in the light of the risks of climate change. The study panel endorsed steps already taken by Federal financial and insurance regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission to require disclosure requirements for climate change risks.


    The report says that although public beliefs and attitudes about climate often shift from year to year, recent opinion polls indicate that many Americans are concerned about climate change and want more information about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions. The report identifies several barriers to communication about climate change and recommends some strategies for overcoming them, such as urging Federal agencies to support training for researchers on how to communicate complex climate change information and uncertainties to different audiences. In addition, a national task force of educators, government leaders, policymakers, and business executives should be established to improve climate change communication and education.


    Consumers can play an important role in responding to climate change by choosing to reduce their energy use and selecting more energy-efficient products with lower emissions. The Federal government should review and promote credible product standards and labels for consumers that provide information about energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. The government should also consider establishing an advisory service on these issues targeted at the public and small businesses.


    Access a release from NAS (click here). Access the complete report and an executive summary (click here). Access the America's Climate Choices Project website for links to other reports in the series (click here).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 93 BP Oil Spill: More Monitoring; Killing Well Nears

Jul 21: On July 20, at approximately 3:30 PM, the National Incident Commander Thad Allen reported that the government had just authorized BP another 24 hour period for the oil integrity test to continue.  He said the Unified Command (UC) continue to be pleased with the progress as far as monitoring responsiveness to anomalies that are detected. He said the scientific teams from the U.S. Government and BP and other industry experts continue to talk about the pressure difference in the well and the sources for that. The current pressure (yesterday) is 6,834 pounds per square inch and continues to slowly increase between one and two pounds per hour. BP reported the pressure at 6844 psi at 10 AM today (July 21).
    He said the team is looking for all indicators of anomalies and are "working very, very hard to make sure that we don't see any indicators that there would be any compromise to the integrity of the well head." He said they are  taking temperature readings which are stable at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature fluctuation will be an indication of movement of products through the well bore that might be something to be concerned about. They continue to collect acoustic, sonar and seismic data and continue to look for anomalies such as gas bubbles. 
    There are some minor leaks that are around the blowout preventer and the, and the stacking cap itself.  He said they don't think those are consequential to the response but they are tracking them. They are the source of some hydrates in and around the material. The next 24 to 48 hours they will continue to analyze the seismic data.  The NOAA Vessel, Pices is in place and NOAA will continue to do acoustic monitoring. 
    While the monitoring is taking place the largest, most integrated response to the surface oil continues. A total of 750 skimming vessels are now involved in the operation.  We will continue to do that. He said, "We are making great progress with the oil that was released while we were changing out the capping stacks." He reported that the weather has been fairly good holding the oil near or just south of the well head. The winds have started to change and the next 24 to 48 hours, there could be some oil moving to the west to northwest back towards the Mississippi Sound, the Chandelier Breton Sounds and the southeast coast of Louisiana. 
    Media reports on July 21, indicate that there is some concern over a developing tropical depression that could move into the area over the weekend. Efforts to permanently close the well either through the interceptor wells and/or a "static kill" which was announced yesterday are likely within the next two weeks. If the developing storm worsens, activity could be delayed. Also, the "seepage" report of couple of days ago, appears to be coming from an older, unrelated well.
    In a separate report from BP, the company indicated that it has entered into several agreements to sell "upstream" assets in the United States, Canada and Egypt to Apache Corporation. The deals, together worth a total of $7 billion, comprise BP's Permian Basin assets in Texas and south-east New Mexico, US; its Western Canadian upstream gas assets; and the Western Desert business concessions and East Badr El-din exploration concession in Egypt. BP said the decision to make the divestments follows the announcement made by BP last month that it was increasing its target for divestments to $10 billion. The proceeds of the sales will be used by BP to increase the cash available to the group.
    BP Chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg said, "Over the last two months the Board has considered BP's options for generating the cash necessary to meet the obligations likely to arise from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP has an extremely strong asset base which is diversified geographically as well as by asset class. The Board believes that there are opportunities to divest assets which are strategically more valuable to other parties than they are to BP. Today's announcement is the first such transaction and meets the value and strategic criteria of both parties." BP's stock price is holding between $36-37 per share and the current market value is $113 billion.
    Access the transcript of the July 20 UC briefing (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here). Access the Unified Command website which contains additional information (click here). Access a release on the divestments with more details on each transaction (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 92 BP Oil Spill: Sparse News; House Hearing; More Monitoring

Jul 20: Neither the Unified Command or BP issued a news update for July 20. In a very brief announcement BP reported that the well integrity test is ongoing and active monitoring continues. Currently the well remains shut-in with no oil flowing into the Gulf; any significant change to the operation will be announced via a press release. BP said the pressure continues to slowly increase and is approximately 6825 psi. A new "static kill" method was apparently suggested by BP and discussed in various media reports and at the House hearing below. The method would involve injecting mud at the top of the well and sealing it similar to the former "top kill" method that failed previously.

    The House Energy & Commerce Committee, Chaired by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Chaired by Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Chaired by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) held a joint hearing entitled, "The Role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster." The hearing examined the Interior Department's actions before and since the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010. Witnesses included: Gale Norton, Former Secretary, Department of the Interior, 2001-2006; Dirk Kempthorne, Former Secretary, Department of the Interior, 2006-2009; and Ken Salazar, the current Secretary, Department of the Interior.

    In an opening statement full Committee Chairman Waxman confronted Secretaries Norton and Kempthorne and said, "We will learn that the Department of Interior under both President Bush and President Obama made serious mistakes. The cop on the beat was off-duty for nearly a decade. And this gave rise to a dangerous culture of permissiveness. . . What makes this hearing unique is that we will also be hearing from his two predecessors, former Secretary Gale Norton and former Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. This will allow us to examine the recent history of federal drilling regulation, and we thank them for their cooperation.

    "In many ways, this history begins with Vice President Cheney's secretive energy task force. The energy task force was initiated during President Bush's second week in office, and for weeks it met privately with oil and gas executives and other energy industry officials, whose identity the Administration steadfastly refused to disclose. Four months later, the Vice President released a report describing the Administration's new energy strategy. The report directed the Interior Department to 'consider economic incentives for environmentally sound offshore oil and gas development.' As recommended in the report, President Bush immediately issued an executive order to 'expedite projects that will increase the production … of energy.'

    "Secretary Norton led implementation of the Bush energy policies at the Department of the Interior. She promoted new incentives and royalty programs to encourage drilling. But, she failed to act on safety warnings about blowout preventers. And she rejected proposals to strengthen standards for cementing wells. Those decisions sent a clear message: the priority was more drilling first, safety second. Secretary Norton left amid the scandals involving Jack Abramoff to work as a general counsel for Shell, a major oil company. Her successor, Secretary Kempthorne, oversaw the Lease Sale to BP of the future Macondo well. Secretary Kempthorne also oversaw the deeply flawed assessment of potential environmental impacts associated with this lease sale, an assessment that did not anticipate the possibility or impacts of a catastrophic subsea blowout. As a result of those environmental assessments, BP did not have to include an oil spill response discussion, a site-specific oil spill response plan, or a blowout scenario in its exploration plan. . ."

    Rep. Waxman also criticized the Department under Secretary Salazar and said, "As a Democrat, I hoped the Obama Administration would do better and, in some ways, there have been reforms. The scandal ridden royalty-in-kind program was cancelled. Secretary Salazar instituted new ethics programs. And in the Department's budget, Secretary Salazar requested more inspectors for offshore facilities. But there is little evidence that these reforms changed the laissez-faire approach of MMS in regulating the BP well. MMS approved the drill plan and changes to the well design that we have questioned during our investigation."

    Former Interior Secretary Norton said she was "deeply saddened and appalled by the Deepwater Horizon disaster." She said, "I urge Congress and regulators to respond in a balanced way: take strong action to ensure safety measures are in place and that industry complies. Devote more resources to research and preparedness for oil spill response. But do not impede America's energy security or destroy processes that have worked well in the past." She concluded, "America has been at the leading edge of offshore safety and environmental protection. We have suffered a devastating setback. Lives have been lost. Whole communities have been affected. The environment has been seriously impacted. We should strive to learn from the mistakes and make sure they never happen again."

    Former Interior Secretary Kempthorne testified that, "My responsibilities as Secretary ended 449 days ago. . . As you can appreciate, I cannot provide any insight about the exploration plan and the many dimensions of the application for the permit to drill which culminated in the Deepwater Horizon accident because these were evaluated and approved after I left Interior. . . Before the Deepwater Horizon accident, there was a 40-year record of environmental protection in offshore drilling. The last major oil spill from a platform occurred in 1969 near Santa Barbara, California. As the Interior Department had stated – on various occasions – before the BP accident, 'natural cracks in the seabed cause oil seeps 150 times larger in volume than oil spilled due to OCS oil and gas activities.' This record of environmental protection occurred when Republicans and Democrats at controlled the Administration and the Congress. . ."

    He said, "I recall being pointedly asked during Congressional hearings why Interior wasn't doing more to expand offshore energy development, not less. In part this concern was driven by the then soaring $4 a gallon gasoline prices." Kempthorne closed with two final thoughts: "First, as a former governor, I urge Congress and this Administration to work closely, hand-in-glove, with the Governors of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. These Governors, Haley Barbour, Bob Riley, Bobby Jindal, Charlie Crist, and Rick Perry, are proven leaders, passionate about their states and their citizens, and pragmatic about finding solutions. They and can be essential allies to clean up the oil spill. . . Second, the consequence of the Deepwater Horizon accident is that it will forever change the offshore energy industry. Never again will a Cabinet Secretary take office and be told that more oil seeps from the seabed than has been spilt from drilling operations in U.S. waters. Never again will decision makers not include planning for events that might be low-probability events, but which, in the unlikely event they occurred, would be catastrophic."

    Representative Markey asked questions about new "static kill" procedure and reminded that BP must pay a $4,300 fine per barrel in the case of gross negligence. He has sent a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen seeking more information on the testing of the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo well and on the status of any potential decision to keep the well closed permanently. He is concerned that shutting of the well would potentially end the possibility of doing any final analysis of the flow rate of the well by collecting 100 percent of the oil into ships on the surface.

    Access the hearing website for links to Chairman Waxman's Opening Statement, Chairman Stupak's Opening Statement, a Briefing Memo, Supplemental Memo, all testimony and a webcast [available soon following the hearing still in progress at press time] (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey and link to his letter to Allen (click here). Access the new RestoreTheGulf website for links to the latest Unified Command updates and more (click here). Access further updates from the BP website (click here).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 91 BP Oil Spill: Cap Holds; Seep Detected; More Monitoring

Jul 19: As of about 10;30 AM EST, BP reported that the well integrity test is ongoing and active monitoring continues. Currently the well remains shut-in with no oil flowing into the Gulf and the pressure continues to slowly increase and is approximately 6800 psi. BP said the next update will be provided around the same time on July 20. According to BP, it continues to work cooperatively with the guidance and approval of the National Incident Commander, Thad Allen and the leadership and direction of Federal government including the Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Federal Science Team, Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard and secretaries Ken Salazar and Steven Chu. At this time, the well integrity test on the MC252 exploratory well continues.

    During the test, the three ram capping stack has been closed, shutting in the well. All sub-sea containment systems (namely, the Q4000 and Helix Producer systems) have been temporarily suspended. The pressure inside the well recently has been measured at approximately 6,792 pounds per square inch and continues to rise slowly. As directed by the National Incident Commander, extensive monitoring activities are being carried out around the well site. Information gathered during the test is being reviewed with the government agencies, including the Federal Science Team, to determine next steps. Depending upon the results of the test and monitoring activities, these steps may include extending the well integrity test or returning to containment options.
    Yesterday, Thad Allen sent a letter to BP and today issued a statement on a new concern that has developed. Allen said, "Yesterday I sent BP a letter stating that there were a number of unanswered questions about the monitoring systems they committed to as a condition of the US government extending the well integrity test. Last night a conference call between the federal science team and BP representatives was convened to discuss some specific issues, including the detection of a seep near the well and the possible observation of methane over the well. During the conversation, the federal science team got the answers they were seeking and the commitment from BP to meet their monitoring and notification obligations.
Ongoing monitoring and full analysis of both the seepage and methane will continue in coordination with the science team. I authorized BP to continue the integrity test for another 24 hours and I restated our firm position that this test will only continue if they continue to meet their obligations to rigorously monitor for any signs that this test could worsen the overall situation. At any moment, we have the ability to return to the safe containment of the oil on the surface until the time the relief well is completed and the well is permanently killed."
    In his letter to BP, Allen states, "Now that source control has evolved into a period beyond the expected 48 hour interval of the Well Integrity Test, I am requiring that you provide me a written update within 24 hours of your intentions going forward. I remain concerned that all potential options to eliminate the discharge of oil be pursued with utmost speed until I can be assured that no additional oil will spill from the Macondo Well. . . Specifically, you must provide me your latest containment plan and schedule in the event that the Well Integrity Test is suspended, the status and completion timelines for all containment options currently under development, and details of any other viable source control options including hydraulic control that you are considering. . . As you develop the plans above, note that the primary method of securing the source is the relief well and this effort takes precedence. Therefore, I direct you to provide a detailed plan for the final stages of the relief well that specifically addresses the interaction of this schedule and any other activity that may potentially delay relief well completion."
    Should the test conclude, the Q4000 is expected to resume capturing and flaring oil and gas through the existing system. It has been capturing and flaring an average of 8,000 barrels a day (b/d) of oil in recent weeks. The Helix Producer also is expected to be available to resume capturing oil and flaring gas through the recently installed floating riser system. It has the capacity to capture approximately 20,000 – 25,000 b/d of oil. Plans continue for additional containment capacity and flexibility that are expected to ultimately increase recoverable oil volumes to 60,000-80,000 b/d. To date, the total volume of oil collected or flared by the containment systems is approximately 826,800 barrels.
    BP indicates that work on the first relief well, which started May 2, continues. The well reached a depth of 17,864 feet as of July 18 and the next scheduled operation is to carry out a ranging run. The first relief well has approached its last casing end point and, following the casing set, additional ranging runs will be used to guide the drill bit to a MC252 well intercept point. After interception, operations are expected to begin to kill the flow of oil and gas from the reservoir by pumping specialized heavy fluids down the relief well. The second relief well, which started May 16, is at a measured depth of 15,874 feet and has been temporarily halted so as not to interfere with the ranging runs being performed in the first relief well. Although uncertainty remains, the first half of August remains the current estimate of the most likely date by which the first relief well will be completed and kill operations performed.
    BP also reports that to date, almost 116,000 claims have been submitted and more than 67,500 payments have been made, totaling $207 million. The cost of the response to date amounts to approximately $3.95 billion, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid, and Federal costs.   
    Access the latest update release from BP (click here). Access the statement from Allen (click here). Access the letter from Allen to BP (click here). Access a summary of the Administration's activities over the past 24 years (click here). Access the new RestoreTheGulf website for links to the latest Unified Command updates and more (click here). Access further updates from the BP website (click here).