Oil update: Spill to harm Europe, Arctic wildlife; hurricane season looms

Friday, May 21, 2010
By Paul Martin

May 21, 2010

Here are some of the day’s developments on the Gulf oil disaster, which is now a month old:

• Wildlife and marine life in Europe and the Arctic will also suffer from the Gulf oil disaster, a top scientist told a congressional panel today, CNN reports.

“This is not just a regional issue for the wildlife,” said Carl Safina, the president of the Blue Ocean Institute, who briefed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on his recent visit to the Gulf Coast. “There will be a nest empty in Newfoundland,” he said, holding a photo of an oil-covered bird and noting migratory patterns.

Safina warned that several marine species in the Atlantic Ocean “come into the Gulf to breed.”

A senior scientist tells Green House the impact on wildlife is “like a slow moving train wreck.”

• The so-called top kill method to try to stop the underwater gusher will be tried early next week, said BP’s chief operation officer, Doug Suttles. That involves pumping a thick, viscous fluid at a high rate into the leak and then sealing it with cement.

• Hurricane season begins in 10 days, and major storms could bring oil pollution miles inland. Oil and tar balls have already pushed into Louisiana marshlands, and one beach has been closed.

“It is a very difficult reality for people to fathom right now,” said Courtney Howell, executive director of Bayou Grace Community Services in Chauvin, La., toldBusinessWeek. “They know how big this threat is, but trying to think about that on top of a hurricane is too much to bear.”

The season begins June 1. Forecasters are calling for 14 to 18 storms with sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour to form in the Atlantic before Nov. 30.

“It’s a huge mess and the liabilities are in the billions, possibly the tens of billions,” said Gregory Slayton, a reinsurance expert at the Tuck School of Business. “This is a failure of risk management of epic proportions.”

• BP has backed off of its statement yesterday that it had begun siphoning up 5,000 barrels of oil a day from the leaking seabed well, the Houston Chronicle reports. The paper and other media reported the estimate yesterday, based on interviews with BP officials. The company did not challenge that figure until today.

“We never said it produced 5,000 barrels a day,” Suttles said in a conference call this afternoon. “I am sorry if you heard it that way.” He said the average daily rate of oil being drawn up to the surface through a 4-inch tube inserted into one of the three leaking riser pipes Sunday is 2,000 barrels a day.

• BP is disputing independent estimates that perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 barrels a day have been pouring into the Gulf since the well ruptured April 20, MarketWatch reports.

• President Obama’s chief spokesman defended the administration’s response so far. The Oval tells us.

“We have taken every step,” Robert Gibbs said. “We have pushed relentlessly.”

Asked why the administration can’t simply “federalize” the disaster, Gibbs argued that there are good reasons to keep BP on the spot. “They have the legal responsibility and the technical expertise to plug the hole,” he said.

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