Tags: US | Gulf | Oil | Spill

BP Makes Progress in Plugging Leak as Obama Halts Drilling

Thursday, 27 May 2010 09:47 AM

BP said it was making headway in plugging its ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well on Thursday as President Barack Obama fought off criticism that his government has been slow to respond to the crisis.

Government calculations of the amount of oil spewing into the ocean showed the disaster has eclipsed the previous worst U.S. oil spill, the Exxon Valdez disaster that tarnished the Alaska coast in 1989.

Calling himself "angry and frustrated," Obama announced a six-month extension of the moratorium on permits for new deepwater oil drilling while a commission investigates the causes of the disaster.

The move is a setback to offshore exploration and a potential blow to Obama's efforts to change U.S. energy policy.

The political fallout from the spill claimed its highest-profile victim as the head of the government agency that oversees offshore oil drilling resigned.

Millions of gallons of oil have poured into the Gulf since an April 20 blast on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill, soiling 100 miles of coastline, threatening some of the country's richest fisheries and endangering a fragile ecosystem already battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

At a White House news conference, Obama repeatedly defended his administration against mounting criticism from Gulf Coast residents that it was too slow to respond to the oil spill and too dependent on BP for solutions to the crisis.

"Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts," said Obama. "This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred."

"I'm confident that people are going to look back and say this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis," said Obama, a Democrat. His Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, was slammed for his handling of the Katrina disaster.

The scale of the Gulf of Mexico spill — already large — expanded hugely with new government figures on Thursday that put the flow rate from the ruptured well at as much as four or five times BP's estimate of 5,000 barrels (210,00 gallons/795,000 liters) a day.

Obama lashed out at the oil industry's cozy and "sometimes corrupt" relationship with regulators in the past and said this had led to lax or little regulation. He said the spill underscored the need for tighter regulation.

BP Managing Director Robert Dudley said a complex "top kill" operation started on Wednesday to try to halt the seabed well's flow by pumping heavy drilling fluids, as thick as mud, into it was "moving the way we want it to." But he told NBC's "Today Show" it was too early to say whether it had been successful.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is leading the oil spill response, told WWL, a CBS radio affiliate in New Orleans, that officials were "cautiously optimistic" that the top kill was working.

"They're in a period of kind of wait-and-see right now, where they see how the well stabilizes," Allen said.

BP spokesman David Nicholas said later the operation was continuing but there was no immediate update on whether it has succeeded. He noted that company executives had previously said it could take up to two days to tell whether it had worked.

News of progress on plugging the spill, coupled with a nearly 4 percent rise in oil prices, lifted shares of the companies mostly closely tied to the oil spill. BP shares were up nearly 6 percent in London trading.

Nervous investors have wiped about a quarter, or about $50 billion, off the energy giant's market value since April.

The high-stakes top kill attempt involves pumping heavy drilling fluids into the top of the well to try to halt the oil flow. If it succeeds in doing this, cement would then be injected to cap the well.

U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt said various government teams examining the oil spill estimated the flow ranges from 12,000 barrels (504,000 gallons/1.9 million liters) to 25,000 barrels (1.05 million gallons/3.97 million liters) per day.

The team's best estimate for the amount of oil pouring from the well is 12,000-19,000 barrels per day, though one of three measurement methods the team used returned a high-end rate of 25,000 barrels per day, said McNutt, who heads a panel of experts set up by the government to determine the flow rate. BP declined immediate comment on the government's estimate.

In the previous worst U.S. oil spill, in March 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez hit an undersea reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling nearly 260,000 barrels (10.92 million gallons/41.34 million liters) of oil into the sea.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the head of the Minerals Management Service federal agency, Liz Birnbaum, had resigned. Many U.S. lawmakers and environmental groups had blamed the agency for lax regulation of offshore drilling rigs and production platforms.

Obama said planned exploration off the coast of Alaska would be suspended pending the presidential commission's review, while pending or proposed lease sales in the western Gulf and off the coast of Virginia would also be scrapped.

© 2019 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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BP said it was making headway in plugging its ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well on Thursday as President Barack Obama fought off criticism that his government has been slow to respond to the crisis. Government calculations of the amount of oil spewing into the ocean showed...
Thursday, 27 May 2010 09:47 AM
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