High seas may threaten Gulf recovery

06/28/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the relief well BP is drilling had gotten to a depth of more than sixteen thousand feet and is on target to be functional by August. But high seas could delay the effort to stop the gulf oil gusher by as much as two weeks.

In a press conference today, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the oil spill recovery effort is unprecedented and so getting it right won’t be easy.

"The damage continues to unfold over the course of days, weeks, and now months and it's not hours or days which the way one normally thinks of an oil spill. A course of disaster this size leads to unforeseen challenges."

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said a key unknown is wind, as the oil’s recent change in direction demonstrates.

"We have seen oil change direction. It was generally heading East into the pan handle of Florida, but because of wind conditions and currents we now see oil starting to surround areas around a chandelier of breath and sound. We're very concerned about that. We're moving forces there as we speak."

Another variable, one far more ominous than wind, is looming on the horizon: Hurricanes.

"If we have to evacuate the site because of a hurricane, we estimate that there could be a break for about fourteen days to take down the equipment, move it off to a safe place, and bring it back to re-establish the drilling."

Days ago, the projected path of Tropical Storm Alex presented a nightmare scenario, prompting Senator Bill Nelson to write a letter to Allen urging preparation.

Now, with the system expected to go inland at the Texas-Mexico border the worst-case scenario isn’t currently imminent. But Allen said swells of twelve feet would hinder BP’s ability to bring a third recovery vessel on line, one he says would bring the amount of recovered oil up to 53,000 barrels each day.

"This is the maximum impact of Alex passing by. It could produce seas of up to 12 feet sometime in the next 36 hours or so. The only impact that it will have on ongoing operations would be a potential delay of the preparations for the Elite's Producer. Which will be the third production vessel, which will take us to a capacity of 52,000 barrels."

Over a 24-hour period that ended at midnight, Allen said BP collected more than 24,000 barrels. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Charlie Crist was in Pensacola today renewing his call for a special state legislative session to develop a constitutional amendment that would ban drilling if voters approve it in November.

"You know we're in a different economy than Mississippi and Louisiana and Alabama. Frankly, we depend on tourists. It is critical. We are a state that our economy is inextricably linked to our environment. You've got 85 million people a year who come to visit Florida throughout the state."

The governor said that pursuing offshore drilling defies logic, given that the biggest environmental disaster in US history is unfolding in the Gulf. This comes the same day the head of OPEC said he hopes the federal government reconsiders its moratorium on deep-sea drilling. Crist also said he was disappointed at how slow the claims process has been for those seeking compensation for money and livelihood lost in the wake of the disaster.

"We want to make sure that those moneys get out ASAP, as quickly as possible because small buisness owners need it and individuals need it; fisheries need it. We want to just make sure that that process makes sense and isn't one of these where it's continually changing and moving. So, there's a different application one day and then another application another day. And then they have five different applications they have to go through before they actually get it acted upon. That starts to defy common sense very quickly."

Today in Jacksonville, Senator Bill Nelson also expressed disappointment in the speediness of the claims process.

"They are sending money to the states, as they've sent about 50 million dollars to Florida to do an advertising campaign to tell people to come on to Florida, our beaches are fine. But, the problem has been that the payments have not been made in a timely fashion. For example, I talked to all the emergency operation centers in the east county of the gulf coast where the oil has been hitting, even if it's just little tar balls, and all the money that they've expended in advance to get prepared for it, they have not been reinversed. As of last Friday afternoon, they have still not been reinversed."

And in Louisiana, the state’s health secretary is again asking BP for 10 million dollars to provide mental health services to state residents affected by the disaster. This comes less than one week after the suicide of a private boat captain in Alabama who had been working on the relief effort.

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