Federal officials visit oil spill area, talk with BP

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Apr. 30 -- US officials met with state and local officials in Louisiana Apr. 30 to discuss the oil spill response efforts. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also said he met with oil industry executives in Houston before he came to Louisiana.

Salazar said he planned to report to President Barack Obama within 30 days about the safety of deepwater oil and gas operations. Authorities expressed concerns about the failure of a blowout preventer (BOP) on a deepwater well to stop the flow of oil, resulting in the spill that approached the Louisiana coast Apr. 30.

BP PLC has asked for help from other companies within the oil and gas industry on how to stop the leak. BP continues working to try and close the BOP using remotely operated vehicles.

Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible was on contract to BP to drill the Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in 4,992 ft of water near Rigel gas field. An Apr. 20 explosion and fire rocked the semi, leaving 11 crew members missing and presumed dead and injuring 17.

A total of 115 people evacuated the rig. On Apr. 22, the semi sank. Cause of the accident remains under investigation by various companies and government agencies.

The US Minerals Management Service is reviewing records of all Gulf of Mexico drilling contractors to ensure they are periodically checking that BOPs are working (OGJ, Online, Apr. 29, 2010). BOPs are to be checked about every 2 weeks, and companies are to keep records of these inspections on file.

MMS inspectors first are checking the records of drilling rigs and then they plan to check the records of production platforms, the agency has said.

Salazar said, “We cannot rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead and until we clean up every drop of oil.” An estimated 5,000 b/d is leaking from the wellhead and riser pipe.

“This has huge ramifications about what happens to energy development in the ocean all around the world,” Salazar said. “I am confident we will get to the bottom of what happened here.”  Salazar also said DOI has established an Outer Continental Shelf Safety Board to review offshore drilling practices and safety issues and to tighten the oversight of equipment testing if needed.

Salazar joined Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson in a visit to Louisiana where they inspected emergency response efforts to minimize environmental risks to oil expected to come ashore.

Napolitano discussed what she called “a shared disappointment” that the BOP did not close and stop the leakage as expected. “Now, we need to work more speedily,” she said, adding that federal officials were working aggressively with officials in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to minimize shoreline damage from the oil spill.

The federal government plans “a sustained involvement” to help address “a substantial release of oil,” she said.

Oil recovery logistics
Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration & Production Inc., said wind and waves conditions prevented skimmers from operating on Apr. 30 and also prevented more controlled burns until the seas are calmer.

The US Coast Guard is working with BP to deploy booms, skimmers, and apply chemical dispersants both on the surface and the subsurface, and to set controlled fires to burn the oil off the open water.

BP also prepared to drill a relief well into the exploration well using the Transocean Development Driller III, which already is in place. MMS already approved the plans and granted drilling permits. A second drillship, Transocean’s Discoverer Enterprise, was expected to arrive on May 1.

Suttles said on Apr. 28 that a subsea oil collection system is being built onshore. It consists of a dome to cover the oil leaks. Collected oil would be sent by pipes to a storage vessel on the surface. Authorities estimate it could take 2-4 weeks to implement this subsea dome system.

EPA monitoring efforts
Jackson said the EPA was working with state and local governments on air and water monitoring to determine any aftermath from the oil spill.

Jackson said on Apr. 30 she plans to spend the next 36 hr visiting with community groups and meeting EPA staff responding to the spill.

“We are taking every possible step to protect the health of the residents and mitigate the environmental impacts of this spill,” Jackson said. “For several days, EPA has been on the ground evaluating air and water concerns and coordinating with other responding agencies.”

She also said she wanted the expertise of local coastal residents “who know these marshes like the back of their hand.”

EPA established air-monitoring stations along Plaquemines Parish on the Louisiana coast. EPA established those facilities to determine how oil set on fire in the gulf and oil that is reaching land is impacting air quality.

In addition, EPA is monitoring levels of a number of chemicals potentially emitted by oil, including volatile organic compounds such as xylene, benzene, and toluene.

EPA has deployed two Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzers, mobile laboratories that collect and analyze air-quality samples in real time, to monitor air quality in the region.

EPA tested smoke from the controlled burn 2 days ago and found the Louisiana coast had not been affected because an offshore breeze was blowing away from land and out to sea during that time.

EPA established a web site to inform the public about the spill’s impact on the environment and the health of coastal residents. The web site is www.epa.gov/bpspill.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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