Wednesday, May 26, 2010

History of the Oil Spill

By Tampa Tribune, Fla.

May 25--The sluggish, inadequate response by both oil giant BP and the federal government to the uncontrolled oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico has allowed a tragic accident to become an environmental catastrophe.

It is BP's responsibility to stop the leak, control the spreading slick, and clean it up.

But more than a month after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, the governor of Louisiana is pleading for containment booms and skimmers after oil coated 65 miles of shoreline. State and federal governments, and the oil industry, were unprepared to react to a major spill with enough manpower and equipment to protect the coast.

BP now hopes to plug the gushing well with mud and cement, and will try later this week, although it warns that it has never attempted the procedure in water so deep.

The scientific befuddlement is infuriating, given the industry's pre-spill claims to have mastered techniques and equipment that made offshore drilling absolutely safe.

After the rig exploded April 20, BP sounded no environmental alarm. Coastal communities were reassured that the well had not been in production. If BP suspected an undersea blowout, it didn't share its fears.

The next day, Coast Guard officials said crude oil could be leaking from the sea floor, but then changed their minds and announced there was no leak. BP promised to mop up whatever flotsam littered the area around the sunken rig.

On April 25, coastal communities were shocked to learn that up to 42,000 gallons of oil a day could be spilling, enough to threaten Louisiana, Alabama and possibly Florida.

BP asked for government help. Then the news broke that the spill was five times larger than first thought and had the potential to destroy fishing in a huge area of the fertile Gulf. But Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said, "It's premature to say this is catastrophic."

On May 3, BP reported that it would pay for all the cleanup costs even as oil continued to pour into the Gulf. Gov. Charlie Crist was among the first officials to lose his patience, saying, "It's not a spill; it's a flow."

On May 4, President Barack Obama finally called it a "massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." Yet he still did not take command of the operation, as authorized in the Clean Water Act should a spill threaten public health or welfare.

On May 15, BP's chief executive reassured the Gulf states not that it knew how to immediately stop the oil geyser, but that "the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." He said that before the drifting sludge had reached shore.

On May 18, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prohibited fishing in an area of the Gulf about the size of Pennsylvania.

After BP rigged a pipe to siphon a fraction of the oil at its source on the ocean floor, it soon was collecting as much oil as it had said the spill was producing. It conceded it may have underestimated the size of the leak.

By May 20, the spill was reported to be big enough to require testing of Gulf seafood for perhaps decades to come.

On May 21, a White House spokesman said, "We are facing a disaster, the magnitude of which we likely have never seen before, in terms of a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico."

Now the spill is affecting a coastal area 150 miles wide, from Dauphin Island, Ala. to Grand Isle, La. Heavy oil has gone deep into some marshes.

BP has revealed its response to the disaster be largely experimental.

The federal government has revealed it doesn't have an oil response strategy other than to hope the oil company's scientists and engineers can figure out what to do.




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