BP awaits results from new containment method as Obama takes his anger to Gulf today

Still from Larry King live with Obama

Publish date: June 3, 2010

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK – BP will learn Friday how effective the new cap it placed on the ruptured undersea well is in slowing down the largest oil spill in US history as President Obama expressed his anger over the accident even on the eve his surprise trip to Louisiana today.

Obama said on CNN’s Larry King live Thursday evening that he is “furious at this entire situation,” because “somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions,” and that he has not seen the kind of rapid response from the BP that he wanted.

BP did manage yesterday to break a losing streak by cutting a riser pipe at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site with a pair of giant shears – a last resort after a diamond saw that is capable of more precise cuts got stuck in the pipe, and was later found to be damaged when freed. The goal of the operation was to place a cap on the well pipe itself and siphon some of the oil to tankers on the surface. BP spokesmen reported midday that the cap had been successfully placed and that some oil was being received aboard the Discovery Enterprise tanker. 

The Coast Guard has “very roughly” esitmated that the siphon will bring about 1,000 barrels of oil to the surface a day, which is barely a dent in the 19,000 barrels estimated by the US Geological Survey to be leaking a day.
Some 125 miles of Louisiana’s coast, the Mississippi’s Barrier Islands, and

Alabama’s Dauphin Island have been hit by oil, and tar balls are announcing a coming oil hit that is less that six miles from the Florida panhandle’s coast, emergency response officials said Friday.  

Robot submarines steered the new cap to the well about 10 p.m. Thursday. But Friday morning, a nonstop cloud of oil was still spewing from the pipe. All camera’s trained on the spill can be viewed here, while the BP official live feed only shows one camera feed at a time.

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Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Tony Russell said even if the capping and siphoning effort is successful, “This is only a temporary and partial fix, and we must continue our aggressive response,” adding , “It will be some time before we can confirm that this method will work.”

BP plans to successively close four vents at the top of the containment cap Friday, hoping to stem oil that is still escaping into the Gulf of Mexico, said Doug Suttles, the company’s chief operating officer.

A very smooth cut was required for the operation to work successful, and even then oil was expected to continue escaping into the gulf. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing cleanup and plugging efforts, and Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, both acknowledged the cut was not perfect.

And Hayward, whose company bears full responsibility for containing the spill, told reporters BP will be working to clean up the mess left behind “for a very, very long time.”

‘Top cap’ to compensate for rough cut in pipe

With the cut made BP will again try to fit one of a half dozen domes over the enormous blowout preventer apparatus at the bottom of the sea, an operation the company had previously tried and failed when hydrocarbons froze the dome shut, making siphoning impossible.

“We don’t have as clean of cut, but we do have a cut now,” Allen told reporters. The so-called “top cap” will include a rubber seal and will be able to accommodate the roughly 10-degree tilt in the portion of the pipe it is attaching to, he said.

To avoid the freezing problems it encountered in early May, BP will pump methanol down the siphon pipe to avoid the hydrocarbon freeze it encounter when the last dome was lowered over the spill. All told, the leak is not expected to stop entirely until relief wells are dug by August.

Obama would love to do more venting and yelling

On Larry King Live, Obama said he ‘would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people,”but accentuated his reserved demeanour, saying, “but that’s not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem and ultimately this isn’t about me and how angry I am. Ultimately this is about the people down in the Gulf who are being impacted and what am I doing to make sure that they’re able to salvage their way of life.”

Many critics have said Obama has failed to accurately reflect the mood of the people most affected by the oil spill, and his administration has been criticised for its slow response to the blowout. Obama has attempted to respond with an all out offesive.

Today’s visit will mark Obama’s second to the coast in seven days – and postpone international travel to Inodonesia – and his third trip to the coast since the April 20 blowout that occurred when the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon exploded and later sank, killing 11.

Obama has also dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to New Orleans to begin a criminal investigation into companies involved in the blowout.

“Oil giant BP caused the spill and is responsible for paying the costs,” Obama said, adding, “My job is to make sure they’re being held accountable.”

Yet, despite the havoc that the oil spill is causing to Gulf fisheries, fragile wetlands,  wildlife and the entire web of business that depend on Gulf waters, Obama said he still supports off-shore drilling “if it can be done safely.” Asked about reports that his administration had extended a moratorium on offshore drilling to shallow water rigs – a reference to an internal email sent within the Minerals Management Service (MMS) yesterday –  Obama denied it.

“Actually the moratorium is not extended to the shallow waters,” the president said.

The MMS, which is undergoing a drastic overhaul as a result of this Gulf spill is responsible for issuing offshore drilling leases and overseeing their safety – a conflict of interest that the Department of the Interior is in the process of reversing.

Hayward appeared this week in television ads, launched as part of a national campaign to restore the beleaguered oil giant’s tarnished reputation, in which he apologizes and promises to “make this right.”

But even as the ads began to air, a grass-roots campaign dubbed Seize BP planned to kick off a week of demonstrations in more than 50 cities. BP protests are planned Friday, including one organized in Washington by the nonpartisan watchdog Public Citizen.

Louisiana Governor fumes at federal government – BP offers help

In Louisiana, where oily sludge has been fouling coastal marshes for two weeks, state officials said the White House has given its blessing to a plan to dredge up walls of sand offshore and BP agreed to fund the $360 million construction cost. But Gov. Bobby Jindal said Thursday that state officials “haven’t gotten a dime from them.”

“I’m calling on BP to step up [and] be the responsible party in fact, not just by label,” Jindal said. He added, “We’re done talking to attorneys.”

But BP announced Thursday on its website that it has established a $360 million escrow account to fund construction of the six sections of Louisiana barrier islands approved by federal authorities. “Since the environmental implications of the projects are not fully understood, BP assumes no liability for unexpected or unintended consequences of these projects,” the company said in a posting on the site.