up to 4 million gallons of oil spilled
By Bob Marshall, The Times-Picayune
May 11, 2010, 3:38PM
In the past 21 days the Deepwater Horizon blowout has poured more than four million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, closing huge fishing areas, fouling a growing list of shoreline areas and prompting reports of oil odors in the air from Venice to metro New Orleans. But as of Tuesday afternoon state and federal agencies say intensive environmental monitoring shows that no pollutants had penetrated human air, water and food supplies.
“So far nothing of significance – but remember we’ve had no significant oiling inshore yet,” said Jeff Dauzat, an environmental scientists with the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Water, fish and seafood in local estuaries is being collected and tested by the departments of Health and Hospitals, and Wildlife and Fisheries. Air quality is being tested by the state DEQ and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, while the EPA is testing water testing inshore and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is testing water offshore.
Several components of oil threaten human health. Aromatic volatile organic compounds are loaded with highly toxic, known carcinogens such as benzene. These evaporate into the air but can remain in the water and, at high enough doses, can cause serious health problems. They can also be absorbed by some seafood species, posing dangers if consumed in large enough quantities.
Officials with the agencies said testing began immediately after the spill to establish a baseline for healthy conditions.
“We’ll know if conditions change, how things are being impacted or not,” said DHH Secretary Alan Levine. “Just as importantly, after this crisis is over, we’ll use that baseline to be able to tell when things have returned to normal.”
Continuous samples of oysters, shrimp, crabs and fish are sent to labs to test for various toxic chemicals associated with oil spills, but so far no contamination has been found even in areas that have been closed to fishing. However, Levine said closures are necessary to protect the public and the seafood industry because the lab work takes about five days.
“If we wait until we find something harmful to close an area, it might already be in the market place,” Levine said. “The industry knows this better than anyone. They have been extremely supportive and helpful.”
Air samples are being continuously taken daily by the EPA, DEQ and BP contractors from dozens of stations across southeast Louisiana, with the government agencies monitoring the contractors’ work, Dauzat said. Most of the samples are from stationary gauges set at about five feet above the ground, but the EPA also has a mobile unit cruising the area.
And while many residents across the region now report an oily smell in the air, the officials said that does not indicate there was a harmful amount of pollutants in the atmosphere.
“Your nose can smell things in the parts-per-billions, which is far, far, far below any threat to human health,” he said.
“That’s not to say it isn’t uncomfortable or a problem for any individual. People can still have unpleasant effects – nausea, headaches, burning eyes or noses – even though other people are fine.”
Health director Levine said anyone experiencing those symptoms should go indoors, turn on the air conditioners and remain there until the smell dissipates.
Water samples are being conducted by DHH during its seafood monitoring, as well as by the EPA at hundreds of stations along the Gulf, including southeast Louisiana. Intakes for public water supplies along the lower Mississippi River are also being sampled.
And even though some beaches have been fouled with oil and slicks have been reported inside the beach line, no hazardous levels of contaminants had been detected yet, officials said Tuesday.
“Not even close so far,” said Levine. “But obviously that could change.”
Dead dolphins wash up on coast; Gulf oil spill’s role unclear
By The Associated Press
May 11, 2010, 3:01PM
This image provided by NASA shows the tail end of the Mississippi Delta, top right, showing the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.
Federal wildlife officials are treating the deaths of six dolphins on the Gulf Coast as oil spill-related even though other factors may be to blame.
Blair Mase of the National Marine Fisheries Service said Tuesday that the carcasses have all been found in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama since May 2.
Samples have been sent for testing to see whether the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico helped kill the dolphins.
Mase and animal rescue coordinator Michele Kelley in Louisiana said none of the carcasses has obvious signs of oil. Mase also said it’s common for dead dolphins to wash up this time of year when they are in shallow waters to calve.
The Associated Press found dolphins swimming and playing in oily waters off Louisiana last week.
Gulf oil spill testimony to Congress: Not our fault
By The Associated Press
May 11, 2010, 10:54AM
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
From left to right, Lamar McKay, President and Chairman of BP American, Steven Newman, President and Chief Executive Officer Transocean Limited and Tim Probert, President, Global Business Lines and Chief Health, Safety and Enviromental Officer Halliburton, testify before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, on Capitol Hill today.
WASHINGTON — The CEO of the company that owned the oil drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico says the accident was caused by a failure of its cementing, casing or perhaps both.
Transocean Ltd. CEO Steven Newman said at a Senate hearing today that the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig was unusual because it happened after construction of the well was essentially complete.
He said that the explosion that killed 11 workers could not have happened unless the cement, well casing — or both of those elements — failed. The rig sank and has been gushing oil into the Gulf.
Newman dismissed suggestions that a blowout preventer owned by Transocean may have been a cause.
WASHINGTON — BP PLC told Congress today its massive Gulf oil spill was caused by the failure of a key safety device made by another company.
In turn, that company says BP was in charge, and that a third company that poured concrete to plug the exploratory well didn’t do it right. The third company, which was plugging the well in anticipation of future production, says it was only following BP’s plan.
The blame game shot into the open today as the Senate began a hearing into the oil spill that has been contaminating water in the Gulf of Mexico for three weeks and threatens sensitive marshes and marine life from Louisiana to Texas.
Executives of the three companies, all scheduled to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, are trying to shift responsibility for the environmental crisis to each other, according to prepared testimony.
In opening the hearing, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the committee’s chairman, said the failures that led to explosion and spill need to be closely examined so new safety measures can be imposed.
“I don’t believe it is enough to label this catastrophic failure an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence,” said Bingaman, D-N.M.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel’s ranking Republican, said it is essential to determine if the drilling rig operators followed regulations and the law. She said the accident must not interfere with continued offshore oil exploration and production.
The industry testimony planned for the hearing demonstrated the fissures among companies caught up in the accident and its legal and economic fallout.
“I hear one message — don’t blame me,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “Shifting the blame game doesn’t get us very far.”
A top executive of BP PLC, which leased the rig for exploratory drilling, focused on a critical safety device that was supposed to shut off oil flow on the ocean floor in the event of a well blowout but “failed to operate.”
“That was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident,” Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, said, pointedly noting that the 450-ton blowout protector — as well as the rig itself — was owned by Transocean Ltd.
Of the 126 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig when it was engulfed in flames, only seven were BP employees, said McKay.
But Transocean CEO Steven Newman was seeking to put responsibility on BP.
“Offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP,” said Newman, according to the prepared remarks. His testimony says it was BP that prepared the drilling plan and was in charge when the drilling concluded and the crew was preparing to cap the well 5,000 feet beneath the sea.
To blame the blowout protecters “simply makes no sense” because there is “no reason to believe” that the equipment was not operational, Newman argues.
Newman also cites a third company, Halliburton Inc., which as a subcontractor was encasing the well pipe in cement before plugging it — a process dictated by BP’s drilling plan.
A Halliburton executive, Tim Probert, planned to assert that the company’s work was finished “in accordance with the requirements” set out by BP and with accepted industry practices. He says pressure tests were conducted after the cementing work was finished to demonstrate well integrity.
BP and Transocean are conducting separate investigations into what went wrong.
In Louisiana, the Coast Guard and the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service were beginning two days of hearings on the cause of the explosion. The list of witnesses scheduled to testify includes a Coast Guard search and rescue specialist, crew members from a cargo vessel that was tethered to the Deepwater Horizon rig and two Interior inspectors.
In other developments:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will propose splitting up the Minerals Management Service, an administration official, who asked not to be identified because the plan is not yet public, told The Associated Press. One agency would be charged with inspecting oil rigs, investigating oil companies and enforcing safety regulations, while the other would oversee leases for drilling and collection of billions of dollars in royalties.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley will tour the Mobile Incident Command Center in Mobile, Ala., on Tuesday.
The Environmental Protection Agency gave the go-ahead Monday to use oil dispersing chemicals near the sea bottom where the oil is leaking, although the agency acknowledged ecological effects of the chemical are not yet fully known. Two tests have shown the procedure helps break up the oil before it reaches the surface.
BP said it has spent $350 million so far on spill response activities.
President Barack Obama, after being briefed on the latest developments Monday, directed that more independent scientists get involved in seeking a solution to the spill. Energy Secretary Steven Chu will take a team of scientists to BP in Houston.
BP said it has received 4,700 claims for damages related to the spill and so far has paid out $3.5 million on 295 of the claims.