Events May 18, Day 29 of a Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with an explosion and fire April 20 on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well at a rate of at least 210,000 gallons per day.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar caught sharp criticism from lawmakers Tuesday over the government's failures in overseeing offshore oil drilling. And he acknowledged his department had been lax in holding industry accountable. Salazar, in his first appearance before Congress since the April 20 accident that unleashed a massive Gulf oil spill, promised an overhaul of the agency that regulates offshore oil drilling to give it "more tools, more resources, more independence and greater authority."
Three Senate committees held hearings Tuesday. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen were also testifying.
COLLECTING THE OIL
BP says its mile-long tube siphoning oil from a blown-out well is bringing more crude to the surface. In a news release Tuesday, BP PLC says the narrow tube is now drawing 84,000 gallons a day for collection in a tanker — double the amount drawn when it started operation Sunday. BP — which puts the leak at 210,000 gallons — has said it hopes to draw about half the leaking oil. Scientists who have studied video of the leak say the amount could be significantly more.
FISHING SHUT DOWN
Federal regulators nearly tripled the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico where fishing is shut down because of the spill. They had already shut down fishing from the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle, about 7 percent of federal waters were affected. Now nearly 46,000 square miles, or about 19 percent of federal waters, will be shut under the expanded ban.
Federal officials say 189 dead sea turtles, birds and other animals have been found along Gulf of Mexico coastlines since a massive oil spill started last month. The total includes 154 sea turtles, primarily the endangered Kemp's ridley variety, 12 dolphins and 23 birds. What they don't know is how many were killed by oil or chemical dispersants. Acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould says the spill's effects could be felt for decades and may never be fully known because so many affected creatures live far offshore.
WHERE IS IT GOING?
Government scientists are surveying the Gulf of Mexico to determine if oil from the spill has entered a powerful current that could take it to Florida. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco says aerial surveys show some tendrils of light oil close to or already in the loop current, which circulates in the Gulf and takes water south to the Florida Keys and the Gulf Stream. But most oil is dozens of miles away from the current. Lubchenco says it will take about eight to 10 days after oil enters the current before it begins to reach Florida. But scientists from the University of South Florida are forecasting it could reach Key West by Sunday.
Like many American Indians on the bayou, Emary Billiot blames oil companies for ruining his ancestral marsh over the decades. Still, he's always been able to fish — but now even that is not a certainty. The oil spill has closed bays and lakes in Louisiana's bountiful delta, including fishing grounds that feed the last American-Indian villages in three parishes. It is a bitter blow for the tribes of south Louisiana, who charge that drilling has already destroyed their swamps and that oil and land companies illegally grabbed vast areas.
Miami's top federal prosecutor says the Justice Department is closely monitoring the Gulf oil spill but currently there is no criminal investigation of BP or the other companies involved. U.S. Attorney Willy Ferrer said the federal government's focus now is on stopping the oil leak and cleaning up the mess.