Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Update On BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill

May 5: BP is currently attempting to conduct a recovery operation using a specially-built "dome" to cap the leak at the sea floor and is also conducting a controlled burn; the area of concern has widened in to include the west coast of Florida and the Keys; and officials are preparing for expanded impacts. Reportedly, BP officials have admitted to Congressional members in a closed door meeting, that as much as 60,000 barrels per day may be leaking from the well -- the last estimate was 5,000 barrels per day [See WIMS 5/3/10].
    At the direction of President Obama, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe will travel to the Gulf Coast this week to meet with Federal, state and local officials, as well as local business leaders, as part of their continued oversight of BP's efforts to plug the leak and contain the spill, and their ongoing emphasis on interagency coordination in response to the event.

    On Thursday, Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Locke and Administrator Lubchenco will travel to Biloxi, MS, to inspect response operations, meet with state, local and private sector leaders, and view firsthand staging areas for the deployment of boom to protect vital shoreline from the oil spill. Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Locke will then visit similar operations ongoing in Pensacola, FL. Administrator Lubchenco and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley will then visit Pascagoula, MS, to visit NOAA's seafood inspection lab.

    EPA Deputy Administrator Perciasepe will also travel on Thursday to Louisiana, where he will review EPA's ongoing air and water monitoring activities, meet with local and community leaders, and assess the environmental situation on the ground. On Friday, Lubchenco and Sutley will travel to Venice and St. Bernard Parish, LA, to inspect shoreline cleanup assessment activities and meet with state, local and private sector leaders about the administration's ongoing efforts to mitigate the spill's impact on public health, the environment, and the economy. Today, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is touring Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, and the areas affected by the BP oil spill to assess the ongoing Federal response efforts.
    Today BP responders were preparing to conduct a controlled burn. As part of the coordinated response that combines tactics deployed above water, below water, offshore, and close to coastal areas, controlled burns remove oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and wildlife. No populated areas are expected to be affected by the controlled burn operations and there are no anticipated impacts to marine mammals and sea turtles. Responders said a successful controlled burn, lasting 28 minutes on April 28 removed thousands of gallons of oil.
    On May 4, the White House indicated that as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico grows and makes it way toward the coast, attention has turned to the question of who will pay for the clean-up and any possible damages to our natural habitats, businesses, and individuals who call this region home. An Administration blog posting indicates, ". . .let's be clear about a few things: BP is responsible for -- and will be held accountable for -- all of the very significant clean-up and containment costs. They will pay for the mess they've made. Beyond clean-up and containment, BP must be held responsible for the damages this spill causes." The Administration indicated that it "strongly supports efforts on Capitol Hill to raise the Oil Pollution Act damages cap significantly above $75 million."

    According to the posting, "Currently, under the Oil Pollution Act, if BP is found to be grossly negligent or to have engaged in willful misconduct or conduct in violation of federal regulations, then there is no cap under this specific law for damages. Simply put, the $75 million cap on damages under the Oil Pollution Act would not apply under these circumstances. Right now, this crisis is still very much unfolding so it will take time to determine what caused this spill and the extent of the damage that can be claimed under this one law. Changing the Oil Pollution Act so that its cap does not limit our ability to collect damages would increase our chances of collecting adequate compensation. In addition, we are examining what fines or damages BP could be liable for under additional applicable federal and state laws. The bottom line is that the Administration will aggressively pursue compensation from BP for any damages from this spill."

    Today (May 5), in response to the possibility of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affecting the West Coast of Florida, representatives from BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) are meeting to plan a multi-agency response. Working together, the agencies have reviewed the area contingency plan and ensured all partners have access to, and are familiar with the plan. In meetings over the last couple days, the Coast Guard and FDEP have spoken with trustees from various national and state wildlife refugee areas, along with every county emergency management office on the West Coast of Florida. The agencies also met with over 30 members of non-governmental environmental organizations including Tampa Bay Watch, Save our Seabirds, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Sierra Club, etc. The latest predictions from the NOAA, indicate no impact to the western coast of Florida, from Taylor County to Collier County within the next 72 hours.

    On May 4, The United States Coast Guard at Sector Key West, FL, in conjunction with its port partners and key stakeholders, have been actively preparing for possible marine pollution effects from the spill. As part of an ongoing preparation efforts, the Coast Guard hosted a joint meeting on with Federal, state, and local partners to discuss potential impacts and response priorities should the spill affect the waters of the Florida Keys. Agencies met to review highly sensitive areas in the Keys, prepared response strategies, and to share information and discuss pollution mitigation. Capt. Pat DeQuattro, sector commander at Coast Guard Sector Key West said, "Although it is still too soon to predict if or how the Florida Keys may be impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill, we are focused on preparing for whatever those impacts may be."

    Access a release on the Administration officials in the Gulf Coast (click here). Access a NY Times article (click here). Access a release on the controlled burn and link to additional information (click here). Access the blog posting from the White House on BP responsibility (click here). Access a release on the FL West Coast preparation (click here). Access a release on the Keys preparation (click here). Access further updates on a joint companies and government unified command website (click here). Access local media reports from the Alabama Press-Register (click here).