Castor says BP thinks oil leak could be up to 60 thousand barrels per day
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05/05/10 Seán Kinane
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Yesterday, representatives from three of the companies responsible for the Gulf oil well blow-out — BP, Transocean and Halliburton — held closed-door meetings with some members of Congress.

Tampa-area U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor attended a meeting, and tells us she heard from the companies that there is uncertainty about when the leak will be under control, and even about the size of the leak, which could be ten times the volume previously expected.

My Energy and Commerce Committee had a closed-door briefing, and we heard from executives from BP, Transocean, which was actually operating the rig, and Halliburton, that was doing some cement work on the rig and underwater. And they left me gravely concerned over the situation. There are currently — as of yesterday there were three leaks; they have plugged one on the drill pipe, but that has not affected the flow of oil. They said they really do not have a good handle on the volume of oil spilling out five thousand feet below the surface of the water. They do not have a good time frame on when the leak will be capped.

So we are left now to the mercy of the current, the waves, and the giant Loop Current, and hoping for the best. And that's simply unacceptable. The executives also refused to answer any questions on causation, on who may be responsible, what work was going on there, or — and they refused to answer any questions regarding the safety aspects of the rig, and what they thought was appropriate.

Q. You mentioned that the executives said they did not have a good handle on the volume. The New York Times reported that a senior BP executive in a closed-door meeting with Congress mentioned that the ruptured oil well could conceivably spill as much as sixty thousand barrels of oil a day — more than ten times the estimate of the current flow. Is that what they mentioned in your meeting?

That's correct; that's exactly what BP and Transocean said to us — that this could be anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000. And that leaves everyone gravely concerned, because they — we really do not know what we're dealing with. And this potentially could be an epic disaster if it does flow into the Loop Current, or the Loop Current rises to the north to where the well-head is, and entrains that oil southward toward the Florida Keys and the national marine sanctuary.

Q. And of course, after the Florida Keys, it could head up the East Coast of Florida and beyond, so that — there are members of the state Legislature who are calling for a state constitutional amendment forbidding drilling in state waters. I know this is not a federal issue, but is that something you would support?

I absolutely would support that, because the state waters are just a few miles offshore. And what I've raised, what I raised yesterday with Carol Browner (assistant to the president for Energy and Climate Change), Secretary (of the Interior Ken) Salazar, Coast Guard Commandant (Thad W.) Allen, and EPA Secretary (Lisa P.) Jackson in a hearing, in a meeting right after the one I had with the executives from BP, and Transocean and Halliburton, was that the Administration now needs to change its proposal that they surfaced last month, that was to bring rigs closer to the shores of Florida. They are proposing a 125-mile buffer, where in law right now we already have a 235-mile buffer.

And this is the first time I heard possibly a little bit of give from Secretary Salazar, because he said right now they're in the process of learning; there's going to be a report over the next 30 days regarding safety efforts, and what we can do to make sure this never happens again. But they're also considering economic concerns, and possible adjustments to their policy. So we're going to stand up and push as hard as we can to make the Administration rethink their latest proposal.

Q. And BP has said they will pay for the cost of the cleanup. And they're also, a responsible party has a liability cap of 75 million dollars after the cleanup. And there's legislation being proposed by Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida and others to raise that cap to 10 billion dollars. Is that something you support, and do you see it succeeding in Congress?

It's uncertain right now. And I absolutely will support raising that cap. And BP needs to take responsibility, along with Transocean and Halliburton right now, and say that notwithstanding some arbitrary cap on damages — I mean, 75 million is really a pittance for a company that made billions and billions of dollars in profits — they need to take responsibility now and say, “Not only will we cover the costs of cleanup, but we're gonna take care of the businesses, and we're gonna take care of any other related damages.” I mean, this comes at a terrible time, when we still have fairly high unemployment in our area, and throughout the state of Florida. And they simply must be held accountable.

Q. And finally, Rep. Cathy Castor, the oil well is in five thousand feet of water, and we hear a lot that one of the problems with capping it is because it's never been capped in something this deep before. Are you supporting any sort of moratorium on drilling that deep?

Yes. Until we have a full review, we simply cannot do this type of drilling at that depth. They— BP, Transocean and Halliburton — showed us a video from the remote-controlled vehicles they have underwater at five thousand feet right now. I mean, people cannot get down there. And what they're operating with is a very opaque video camera, and trying to close off these leaks. And that's a horrendous situation.

And then it appears that they have had a concerted effort over the years to lobby against any additional safety precautions, safety requirements, on their drilling. And when we're going down five thousand feet, it's simply out of the bounds of reasonableness for them to be allowed to continue when — notwithstanding what they've been saying, that this is a safe technology. Obviously, this proves that it is not. So it has to be suspended.

More WMNF coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:

BP's track record on safety and are the chemical dispersants harmful to the environment?

Coast Guard holds secret meeting with environmental groups

Seabird sanctuary prepares for oil slick disaster in Tampa Bay

Officials give rosy view on oil spill recovery efforts

Sen Bill Nelson wants pause in exploration until cause of oil spill determined

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