U.S. Ramps Up Coast Protection as BP Oil May Linger for Months

Monday, June 7, 2010
By Paul Martin

By Simon Lomax and Aaron Clark

June 7 (Bloomberg) — Oil from BP Plc’s ruptured well will linger in the Gulf of Mexico until at least the fall and the U.S. is seeking more equipment to help prevent the crude coming ashore, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said.

Skimming equipment to corral oil on the surface is being sent to the Gulf from all over the U.S. to keep the crude as much as 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, Allen said.

“This is a siege across the entire Gulf,” Allen, in charge of the government response to the leak, said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” broadcast. “There will be oil out there for months. This will be well into the fall.”

BP said it captured 10,500 barrels of oil from the leak on June 5, up from 6,077 barrels the previous day. The flow from the seabed leak 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below the surface is estimated by government scientists at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

The leak began April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP exploded and sank two days later, killing 11 workers and unleashing the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. Allen said the company was “taking every step possible” to plug the well, yet he joined Florida Governor Charlie Crist in faulting BP for slow response to compensate businesses and workers for losses.

“We want these claims to be responded to much more quickly,” Crist said on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast. “These people need help. And we have to be there to try to make them as whole as we can during this very difficult process.”

Lawyer Task Force

Florida formed a task force of lawyers to handle claims for additional compensation from businesses including restaurants, hotels, oyster fishermen and companies that depend on the Gulf, Crist said.

BP reported that 37,193 claims have been submitted and $48.4 million has been distributed, according to a statement on the Deepwater Horizon Response website. About half of the claims have been paid and the other half are being processed, Mark Proegler, a spokesman for BP said in a telephone interview.

No claims have been denied to date, according to the statement. BP’s spending on claims through June may top $84 million Darryl Willis, vice president of resources at BP America, said June 5 on a conference call.

Skimming Armada

The U.S. is gathering the oil on the surface using skimmers to remove the oil-and-water mix. Near the shore, booms are being used to block oil from reaching beaches, Allen said.

A skimming armada has been deployed and “What we’re trying to do is fight this thing offshore,” Allen said on ABC’s “This Week” broadcast. “This is a war. It’s an insidious war, because it’s attacking four states.”

Efforts to contain the spill are being hindered by winds and current, which can accelerate the movement of the slick on the surface, making it more difficult to attack, he said.

“It’s not a monolithic, huge spill,” Allen said. “It’s disaggregated itself into hundreds, maybe thousands of smaller pieces of oil. So we’re trying to fight it on a lot of different fronts.”

The oil could suffocate fish and other marine life, damage shorelines along the Gulf, sweeping around to Florida’s Atlantic Coast, according to marine scientists.

Atlantic Coast

The National Center for Atmospheric Research said June 3 that oil from the spill may reach Florida’s Atlantic Coast within weeks and then move as far north as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Oil that washed ashore on beaches in Florida’s northwest Panhandle region was quickly cleared, and crews are removing tar balls that are left on the sand, Crist said yesterday.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said state beaches remained free of tar balls or other deposits although tourists may think the coast from Florida to Texas is “ankle-deep in oil.”

“Our tourist season has been hurt by the misperception of what’s going on down here,” Barbour said on the “Fox News Sunday” broadcast.

Barbour said President Barack Obama’s six-month moratorium on offshore drilling imposed last month will delay production in the Gulf, which represents 30 percent of U.S. oil and natural gas production, and increase imports.

Lost Production

“The loss of production that we’re going to suffer will make us even more dependent on the Middle East, on Venezuela, on people that aren’t our friends,” Barbour, a Republican, said on the “Fox News Sunday” broadcast.

Barbour endorsed the call by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to resume offshore drilling in the Gulf.

The moratorium will shut 33 deepwater rigs in the Gulf of Mexico costing as many as 6,000 jobs this month and 20,000 by the end of next year, Jindal said in a letter to Obama on June 2.

As focus remained on BP’s offshore explosion and oil leak, an onshore natural gas well had a “blowout” last week about 122 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, which helped drive natural gas prices to a 14-week high on concern tighter restrictions on offshore drilling will spread onshore.

“A lot of people are starting to worry about the Gulf production of gas,” said Carl Larry, president of Oil Outlooks & Opinions LLC in Houston. “The more we cut back on Gulf production, the more we rely on shale production.”

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