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President Obama visits oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

(This story was updated May 3 with BP comment)

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer
HOUSTON, May 2 -- President Barack Obama on May 2 visited Venice, La., vowing to do whatever it takes to stop the continuing crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which he called a "massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster."

Spill response officials in southern Louisiana said they received reports of oil reaching the shore but these reports have yet to be confirmed. Authorities noted high winds prevented any airplane flights low enough to the ground for officials to tell if oil had reached land in the Mississippi River delta area.

The deadly Apr. 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire has tested industry and governmental response capability. Transocean Ltd.’s semisubmersible rig was drilling a well for BP PLC in 4,992 ft of water when the explosion occurred, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead.

The spill, fed by an estimated 5,000 b/d of crude oil leaking from the BP Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252, resulted in an oil slick that is spreading. The slick forced shutdown of two production platforms and evacuation of one of them, halting production of 6.2 MMcfd of natural gas (OGJ Online, May 1, 2010).

Weather, which has had an effect on recent cleanup efforts, also played a role in Obama’s trip to the gulf coast. He flew into New Orleans and was driven to Venice where he made comments while standing in the rain outside a US Coast Guard office.

"BP is responsible for this leak,” Obama told reporters in Venice. “BP will be paying the bill."  He also said his administration has acted promptly to address the rig accident and resulting spill. A National Response Team involves 16 federal departments and agencies along with BP.

"From day one...we have prepared for the worst while we have hoped for the best,” Obama said.

BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward said the US government leadership has been "excellent," and Hayward said he had reiterated his commitment to the White House "that BP will do anything and everything we can to stop the leak, attack the spill offshore, and protect the shorelines of the gulf coast."

Hayward said BP teams "are working hand in hand" with government oil spill response teams.

BP continued trying to stop the flow of oil at the blowout preventer and was attempting to use a new technology for dispersing oil at the seabed. It also is fabricating a subsea containment apparatus. In addition, BP plans to drill a relief well with the Transocean Development Driller III semisubmersible, which is on site. Cause of the accident remains under investigation.

Halliburton responds
Halliburton, one of several service providers on the Deepwater Horizon, said it is cooperating with investigations into the accident. Among various services, Halliburton provided cementing. Four Halliburton employees safely got off the rig.

“Halliburton continues to assist in efforts to identify the factors that may have lead up to the disaster, but it is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues,” it said in an Apr. 30 news release.

Tests demonstrated the integrity of the production casing string before the accident, Halliburton said.

“Halliburton had completed the cementing of the final production casing string in accordance with the well design approximately 20 hours prior to the incident,” the company said. “The cement slurry design was consistent with that utilized in other similar applications.”

At the time of the rig explosion and fire, well operations had not yet reached the point requiring the placement of the final cement plug that would enable the planned temporary abandonment of the well, Halliburton said.

Spill recovery efforts
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appointed US Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen as the National Incident Commander. Allen is working with Rear Adm. Mary Landry, the federal coordinator in Roberts, La.

“The inevitability of contact of the shoreline is really dependent on the weather,” Allen said during a May 1 news conference. “The fact of the matter is it’s likely to contact shore in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama at some point.” 

Allen said any estimate of the volume of leaking oil “is probably impossible at this time due to the depth of the water and our ability to try and assess that from remotely operated vehicles and video.”

He said he was concerned about the accumulation of oil on the water’s surface, noting the potential exists for the oil leak to continue for 45-90 days. One promising way to reduce the amount of oil reaching the surface is to apply chemical dispersants to the leaking riser pipe and wellhead.

“A test application was made, and it appeared visually to have an effect,” Allen said of subsurface application of dispersants. “We want to make sure by taking water samples and analyzing the impact of the dispersants that there’s not a deleterious effect on the ecosystem down there.”

He said the first priority is to stop the oil at the wellhead. “Second, we need to attack the oil that is there at sea with all means available,” such as skimming, dispersants, and burning the oil on the water’s surface.

Meanwhile, boom is being deployed to protect shorelines based on spill trajectories, he said.

“Finally, we need to recover and mitigate the impacted areas…. There are town hall meetings that have been held in southern Louisiana. We have elicited the aid of volunteer boatmen,” Allen said.

Military equipment assisting
The Department of Defense has provided two C-130 aircraft with Modular Aerial Spay Systems that can dispense the same chemical dispersants already being used by BP and federal responders.

A C-130 can cover 250-acres/flight with each aircraft capable of making up to three flights a day. Adm. Allen said he has asked the DOD for two more C130 aircraft.

The Navy is providing various oil pollution control equipment, including thousands of feet of inflatable boom with mooring equipment.

Federal authorities authorized mobilization of the Louisiana National Guard to help assist communities in the cleanup and removal of oil and to protect critical habitats from contamination. The government said BP is accountable for the National Guard deployment costs.

On May 2, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration restricted commercial and recreational fishing for a minimum of 10 days in federal waters largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay. The closure was effective immediately.
Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com


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