Oil gushing into Gulf as BP forced to remove cap

THE US Coastguard says BP has been forced to remove a cap that was containing some of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Coastguard admiral Thad Allen says an underwater robot bumped into the venting system. That sent gas rising through vent that carries warm water down to prevent ice-like crystals from forming in the cap.

Allen says the cap has been removed and crews are checking to see if crystals have formed before putting it back on. In the meantime, a different system is still burning oil on the surface.

Before the problem with the containment cap, it had collected about 700,000 gallons of oil in the previous 24 hours. Another 438,000 gallons was burned.

The current worst-case estimate of what’s spewing into the Gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day.

Meanwhile, BP’s Tony Hayward handed over management of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill yesterday after enduring weeks of criticism and ridicule in the United States for his handling of the disaster.

Bob Dudley, an American senior manager known as a skilled trouble-shooter who is also conveniently a native of the affected state of Mississippi, will take charge “effective immediately”, BP said in a statement.

Hayward, the British chief executive of the energy giant, made a series of insensitive gaffes in the past two months and turned in an unsympathetic performance at a grilling from angry US lawmakers.

The shake-up comes a day after the White House vowed to issue a fresh moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, after a judge blocked an earlier freeze ordered in the spill’s aftermath by President Obama. Judge Martin Feldman ruled in favour of 32 oil firms, backed by many desperate workers in the Gulf region, that the blanket freeze was “arbitrary and capricious”.

But the White House immediately vowed to appeal the decision and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would issue a new order “in the coming days” to enforce the freeze.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama continued to believe that “to drill at these depths without knowing what happened . . . does not make any sense.”

Oil workers and executives along the southern US coast have criticised the moratorium for driving business out of the Gulf and costing them their livelihoods.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who has criticised the Obama administration for reacting too slowly to the spill, described the judge’s decision as “great news,” saying the moratorium would hurt the same people already impacted by the

US officials estimate between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels are pouring into the Gulf each day, but an internal BP document released by a US lawmaker on Monday showed the firm contemplated a worst-case scenario of as much as 100,000 barrels, or 4.2 million gallons, a day.

America’s worst past oil spill, the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, saw nearly 11 million gallons leak off the Alaskan coast, but even under the low end of current estimates, more than 90 million gallons have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP said it has spent $2 billion (€1.63bn) so far on cleaning up the spill and compensating residents and businesses facing ruin, 64 days into the disaster.

Meanwhile, it emerged the Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration’s six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has reported investments in the oil and gas industry, according to financial disclosure reports. He’s also a new member of a secret national security court.

US District Judge Martin Feldman, a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan, reported owning less than $15,000 in stock in 2008 in Transocean Ltd, the company that owned the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

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