Congress quizzes oil executives

Congress quizzes oil executives
# 13 May 2010 04:55 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Lawmakers on Wednesday pressed oil executives about flaws in an important safety device on a blown-out Gulf of Mexico well as BP pushed another effort to control a huge oil spill that threatens an environmental disaster, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
BP Plc, operator of the oil well off Louisiana’s coast, said it hoped to have a small containment dome in place by late Thursday, its latest attempt to staunch the roughly 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) of crude gushing from the well per day.
London-based BP, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co. were back in the hot seat in Washington over their responsibility in an April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers and triggered what could be the worst-ever U.S. oil spill if the spewing crude remains unchecked.
Transocean owned the rig, while Halliburton did a variety of work on the well.
A House of Representatives panel said it had uncovered significant problems with a safety control mechanism on BP’s well that could have contributed to the accident.
Representative Bart Stupak, a Democrat, said his panel’s investigation showed the Deepwater Horizon rig’s underwater blowout preventer leaked and was not powerful enough to cut off the oil flow before the rig blew up.
Democratic Representative Henry Waxman, quoting from a BP document describing its view of events, said the well failed a pressure test in the hours before the blast.
Panel investigators spoke with officials of the company that manufactured the blowout preventer and reviewed company documents, finding that the device on the rig was modified, making it hard to operate after the accident.
"The safety of its entire operations rested on the performance of a leaking and apparently defective blowout preventer," Stupak said.
A race is on to contain the catastrophe, with oil already reaching at least four shorelines.
Cleanup crews found oil washing ashore at Whiskey Island in Louisiana’s Terrebonne Bay, west of the Mississippi Delta. Crude has also been found at the Chandeleur Islands and Port Eads in the state, as well as on Dauphin Island in Alabama.
There were small, scattered protests against BP in various U.S. cities, most like one involving about two dozen people outside a BP gas station in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Motorists honked and waved as the demonstrators waved signs that said "Boycott BP" and "Billionaire Polluter."
The market’s wrath has been more painful for BP. Investors have cut the value of its shares by more than $30 billion since the accident, exceeding even the worst estimates of the spill’s cost. BP shares fell 0.7 percent in London, while Transocean fell 1 percent and Halliburton rose 2.7 percent in New York.
Anger on the coast itself is palpable.
With most of the shrimping grounds near Grand Isle, Louisiana, shut down, Ronald Polkey was one of dozens of fishermen waiting in line at the town’s community center on Wednesday, hoping BP would write him a check.
"We’re screwed this year for shrimp," Polkey, 42, said.
Fisheries and tourism, two of the Gulf’s economic mainstays, along with wildlife, are threatened by the unfolding fiasco that could surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in terms of spilled oil and resulting damage.
So far, 87 sea turtles, 18 birds and six dolphins have been found dead, officials said. Scientists are testing to determine if the oil spill killed them, or if there were other causes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast persistent southeast winds throughout the week, which it said had the potential to move oil as far west as Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Bay by Thursday.
The attempt to maneuver the "top hat" containment dome over the leak was underway. BP engineers lowered it to the seabed and are hoping to start capturing oil by late Thursday.
BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the company is studying whether to try just positioning the top hat over the leak or inserting a tube directly into the existing equipment.
Both methods would involve siphoning the crude to a tanker through a pipe.
"That decision will probably be made over the next 24 hours and then we’ll proceed with one of those," he told reporters.
The company is not guaranteeing success, citing the difficulties of working almost a mile under the ocean surface. A buildup of slushy gas hydrates stymied its first attempt at covering the rupture with a huge metal dome.
BP also is drilling a relief well, which could take 80 more days to finish. By late next week, it aims to try to plug the leak by pumping materials like shredded tires and golf balls into the well at high pressure.