/ 25 July 2010

BP resuming oil spill work as storm fizzles

Ships and workers moved back into BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill site on Sunday as seas calmed, and BP could begin pumping mud into the blown-out well later this week in a bid to plug the gusher.

As remnants of Tropical Depression Bonnie dissipated over the Gulf on Saturday, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, head of the US spill response, said a “static kill” operation to plug the well by pumping in heavy drilling mud and possibly cement could start in three to five days.

“The ‘static kill’ could go very quickly,” Allen said.

The rig drilling a relief well intended to permanently stop the leak was back in place at the spill site, although Allen said the storm could push back BP’s mid-August target date for completing it back seven to nine days.

BP sealed the leak July 15 with a tight-fitting containment cap, choking off the flow of oil for the first time since an April 20 rig explosion killed 11 workers and sent crude spewing into the Gulf, soiling coastlines in five US states and devastating tourism and fishery industries.

As the storm threat passed, the independent administrator running a $20-billion fund set up by BP to compensate people for financial losses from the spill said the British energy giant was holding up payments to economic victims.

“I have a concern that BP is stalling claims. … I doubt they are stalling for money. It’s not that. I just don’t think they know the answers to the questions” from claimants, Kenneth Feinberg told reporters on Saturday in Alabama.

Thousands of businesses in Gulf Coast states have been crippled by the spill, the worst in US history. BP agreed to set up the $20-billion fund under pressure from President Barack Obama.

At a town hall meeting in southern Alabama, fishermen and other business owners told Feinberg of their frustration and anger at what they say is a slow and complex claims process that lacks transparency.

“After today there will be no more business as usual. I learned today the depth of frustration in people here on the coast,” Feinberg told the meeting.

The weak remnants of Bonnie were on course to make landfall over southeast Louisiana or southern Mississippi early on Sunday. The ruptured deep-sea well — 1,6km under the ocean surface — is off the coast of Louisiana.

Though toothless in the end, Bonnie had prompted oil and natural gas producers to evacuate many offshore workers, halting more than half of the oil production in US-regulated areas of the Gulf and about 25% of gas output.

Several oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Anadarko Petroleum said on Saturday they were returning workers to offshore operations in the Gulf as the storm threat faded and planned to restart production of oil and gas. – Reuters