Gulf Coast residents brace for more oil

Residents of the US Gulf Coast braced for more oil from a ruptured BP well to hit their beaches on Sunday as oil washed ashore at Panama City, a popular Florida tourist destination.

The city’s beaches remained open after clean-up crews removed the tar balls from shore, authorities said. Even so, the sight is a worry for a state with an annual tourism industry worth $60-billion.

“The vast majority [of tar ball] disappeared with the tide. Our beaches are open and clean,” said Valerie Lovett, spokesperson for Florida’s Bay County.

The largest spill in US history threatens the coastal economies of four states including hard-hit Louisiana.
It has also severely dented the British energy giant’s finances and reputation and tarnished President Barack Obama’s popularity.

The White House criticised BP CEO Tony Hayward for taking time off from dealing with the leak’s consequences to watch a yacht race on Saturday off the south coast of Britain. BP said he was taking some much needed downtime.

To minimise the leak’s environmental impact, BP is capturing as much as 24 000 barrels (3,81-million litres) a day of crude using two containment systems but that is a fraction of the 35 000 to 60 000 barrels the US Coast Guard says is pouring from the well.

BP restarted its containment effort on Saturday after one system was shut down for 10 hours to fix a technical issue and to let a storm pass. It was the latest in a series of problems to bedevil attempts to halt the oil flow now in its 62nd day.

Damages fund
A second system remained running. BP’s long-term solution is to drill a relief well that will relieve pressure on the leak, thus stopping its flow, but that is not due for completion until August.

Under pressure from the White House, BP has set up a $20-billion damages fund but that figure could be increased if it proves insufficient, said Kenneth Feinberg, the fund’s federal administrator.

After falling 6,8% in a volatile week driven by Washington politics, BP’s shares are down 26% so far in June, their worst month since the October 1987 market crash.

And in a further complication, Anadarko Petroleum, part owner of the well, accused BP of “reckless” conduct leading up to the accident.

BP said it “strongly disagrees” with the accusation of gross negligence but would keep focusing on cleaning up the spill, which has triggered a huge response from federal, state and local authorities to try to protect the Gulf coastline.

Hayward was conspicuously absent from a gathering of global oil industry leaders on Saturday in St Petersburg, Russia, where his company’s woes were a constant topic of discussion.

In fact, he was spending time with his teenage son watching a yacht race around the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of Britain, after almost two months away from home and family, according to BP spokesperson Sheila Williams.

So far, Louisiana’s wetlands and its fishing industry have suffered the worst damage from the spill and downcast fishermen say times are harder than in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which battered the Gulf Coast in 2005. - Reuters

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