After the chief hope to stem BP's three-week-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the "containment dome," seemed to fail late Saturday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Sunday that Justice Department officials have been sent "to determine whether there had been any 'misfeasance' or 'malfeasance' related to the leaking oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico," the *Wall Street Journal* reported.[1]  --  After the apparent failure of the containment dome, AP said BP is considering new options, including "a smaller containment dome . . . less vulnerable because it would contain less water," or cutting "the riser pipe undersea and use larger piping to bring the gushing oil to a drill ship on the surface."[2]  --  Meanwhile "[w]aves of dark brown and black sludge crashed into a boat in the area above the leak.  The fumes there were so intense that a crewmember of the Joe Griffin and an AP photographer on board had to wear respirators while outside," AP reported in a separate article.[3]  --  ""[D]ime- to golfball-sized balls of tar washed up Saturday on Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama mainland at the mouth of Mobile Bay and much farther east than the thin, rainbow sheens that have arrived sporadically in the Louisiana marshes," Harry R. Weber and Sarah Larimer said....


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Business

Europe business news

U.S. CONSIDERS 'MALFEASANCE' IN LEAK

By Damian Paletta and Fawn Johnson

Wall Street Journal

May 9, 2010

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704858104575232610208583340.html


Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday said he had dispatched Justice Department officials to the Gulf Coast to determine whether there had been any "misfeasance" or "malfeasance" related to the leaking oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Holder, speaking on ABC's "This Week," said he sent the officials to the area to advise him on "what our options are."  He said the government's primary focus was on preventing the leaking oil from devastating the coast when it reaches land.

A spokesman for BP PLC, which leased the rig that suffered an explosion last month that caused the leak, declined to comment, citing a company policy not to comment on causes of the leak while investigations are ongoing.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is leading U.S. government efforts to tackle the disaster, called it "maddening" that efforts by BP so far to stop the leak have failed.  BP tried to lower a containment box over the leaking pipe over the weekend, but that effort has so far not been successful.

Adm. Allen, speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," said officials were now preparing to do something called a "junk shot," where they try to shoot a bunch of garbage into the leak to "clog it up."

"It's been used before," he said, adding it wasn't an "exotic type of activity."  He said roughly 5,000 barrels of oil continued to leak into the ocean daily, although he added that it was hard to pinpoint an exact amount.  Other estimates have put the daily leak rate much higher.

"We're working at 5,000 feet of depth, which has never been done before," Adm. Allen said.

Meanwhile, two Gulf Coast senators criticized BP over the leaking rig off the Gulf of Mexico.

"A lot of this could have been prevented," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R, Ala.) on CNN's "State of the Union."  "Where was BP?  Were they trying to do this on the cheap? . . . Sooner or later there could be a gusher."

Sen. Shelby also criticized the U.S. government's role, saying, "I don't know where the regulators were on this.  Certainly they were asleep."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D, Fla.) said oil companies, with their lobbying power, have made it difficult for Washington to crack down on them.  "Big oil has had its way among the regulators," he said.

In Congress, when there have been attempts to rein in offshore drilling or tighten regulations, "we could never get to first base because Big Oil would flex its muscle and call in its votes and we could never get anything done," Sen. Nelson said.

BP executives said over the weekend that progress has stalled in their effort to place a containment dome over the leaking rig and are considering their options.

BP lowered a concrete-and-steel structure known as a containment dome almost a mile to the seafloor in an effort to stop the flow of oil from the drilling site.  But gas hydrates -- ice-like solids that form when methane gas combines with water under certain conditions -- clogged the opening at the top of the dome, preventing oil from being funneled to the surface, said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, on a media conference call.  "I wouldn't say it has failed," Mr. Suttles said at a news conference.  "What I would say is what we attempted to do last night wasn't successful."

The April 21 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, about 41 miles off the Louisiana coast, killed 11 workers and created a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The cause of the blast is under investigation.  The rig, owned and operated by Transocean Ltd., was leased to BP.

Mr. Suttles said BP anticipated the formation of hydrate crystals, but not to this extent.  The dome has been laid beside the leaking rig "while we evaluate what options we have" to somehow apply a heat source to the crystals "or find some other method to capture the flow," Mr. Suttles said.

"We thought the size of the opening on the top of the dome would be large enough" not to get clogged by the hydrate, Mr. Suttles said.  "Unclogging the hydrates is not that difficult.  The issue is how to prevent it from forming again."

The company plans to take two days to remove the hydrates and determine next steps.  One option includes injecting methanol, a chemical used as antifreeze, to prevent hydrates from forming, Mr. Suttles said.  Containment dome technology has never been used at such depths before.  "We're looking at every option, and that's what we need the next two days for."

A damaged underwater pipe near the site of the sunken rig is leaking oil into the Gulf at an estimated rate of 5,000 barrels a day.  BP has been using floating barriers called booms in an effort to prevent the oil from reaching the shore, but Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said Saturday in the news conference that oil has been found near Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands.  Three dead birds and three dead porpoises have also been found along the state's coastlines, and officials are working to determine whether oil was a factor in their deaths, Adm. Landry said.

Adm. Landry, as she has repeatedly over the past week, cautioned that the "dome is no silver bullet to stop the leak.  We continue to work on all fronts."

Numerous private companies, local government and states are all ordering and laying booms.  Ms. Landry said the Coast Guard is assisting in the effort, procuring the protectant from across the world.

"We're assembling a massive amount of boom. . . . We're hoping to assemble 300 million feet.  I think ultimately we're going to try to deploy every single bit of boom we can find," she said.

On Friday, Adm. Allen, who is leading the government efforts, said in an interview with the *Wall Street Journal* that he wasn't certain whether enough boom exists to meet the pressing need in the Gulf of Mexico.

But on Saturday, Doug Suttles, the BP chief operating officer, said the prospect of running out of boom is "premature."

Separately, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Saturday that the state is considering a plan to rebuild barrier islands off its marshy coast in an effort to protect wildlife and fish, the latter an important source of the U.S. seafood industry.

The plan, which hasn't been formalized and was announced with state and local officials in a news conference Saturday, would initially ask BP to pay $200 million to dredge up 43 miles of new barrier islands, a process that would take as long as six months to complete but would begin to provide protection immediately, said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

Gov. Jindal said officials will continue to oversee a skimming of thousands of gallons of oil and to lay boom while BP works on the containment dome.

"We hope for the best and prepare for the worst," Gov. Jindal said.  "We hope they get the coffer dam to work.  We have to assume the worst."

--Corey Dade, Christine Buurma and Brian Baskin contributed to this article.

--Write to Damian Paletta at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Fawn Johnson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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BP CONSIDERS SMALLER BOX TO CAPTURE GULF OIL SPILL

By Harry R. Weber

Associated Press
May 9, 2010

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/business/6997331.html


ON THE GULF OF MEXICO -- A BP PLC official is saying that the company is considering more options to stop the flow of oil spewing at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Chief operating officer Doug Suttles said Sunday that BP is thinking about putting a smaller containment dome over the massive leak after a four-story, 100-ton box became clogged with icelike crystals a day earlier.

BP believes a smaller dome would be less vulnerable because it would contain less water.

The company is also now debating whether it should cut the riser pipe undersea and use larger piping to bring the gushing oil to a drill ship on the surface.

Suttles says cutting the pipe is tough, and considered the less desirable option.

3.

BP PLANS TO PARK OIL BOX; UNLOAD NEW EQUIPMENT

By Harry R. Weber and Sarah Larimer

Associated Press
May 9, 2010

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gIXWYBTpLtSayJtg41LKXpxSxVPAD9FJGDQ03


ON THE GULF OF MEXICO --
Crews planned Sunday to park the giant oil containment box on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and offload equipment that could be used in a new attempt to stem the flow of gushing into the sea.

The equipment to be offloaded from another vessel would use a tube to shoot mud and concrete directly into the well's blowout preventer, a process that could take two to three weeks.  But BP PLC spokesman Mark Proegler said no decisions have been made on what step the company will take next.

The company was considering several options, including the technique known as a "top kill," Proegler said.

Crews planned to secure the big box about 1,600 feet from the massive leak site, much farther away from where it was placed Saturday after icelike crystals clogged the top when it was over the leak, according to a daily activity sheet reviewed by The Associated Press.

It could be at least a day before BP can make another attempt at putting a lid on a well spewing thousands of gallons of crude into the Gulf each day.

Waves of dark brown and black sludge crashed into a boat in the area above the leak.  The fumes there were so intense that a crewmember of the Joe Griffin and an AP photographer on board had to wear respirators while outside.

On the deck, a white cattle egret landed, brownish-colored stains of oil on its face and along its chest, wings and tail.

The company's first attempt to divert the oil was foiled, its mission now in serious doubt.  Meanwhile, thick blobs of tar washed up on Alabama's white sand beaches, yet another sign the spill was spreading.

It had taken about two weeks to build the box and three days to cart the containment box 50 miles out and slowly lower it to the well a mile below the surface, but the frozen depths were just too much.  BP officials were not giving up hopes that a containment box -- either the one brought there or another one being built -- could cover the well.  But they said it could be Monday or later before they decide whether to make another attempt to capture the oil and funnel it to a tanker at the surface.

"I wouldn't say it's failed yet," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said of the containment box.  "What I would say is what we attempted to do . . . didn't work."

Early Sunday, there was little visible new activity at the site of the oil spill.  The skies were clear, but the waves on the sea were kicking up and the wind was more breezy than in previous days.

There was a renewed sense of urgency as dime- to golfball-sized balls of tar washed up Saturday on Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama mainland at the mouth of Mobile Bay and much farther east than the thin, rainbow sheens that have arrived sporadically in the Louisiana marshes.

"It almost looks like bark, but when you pick it up it definitely has a liquid consistency and it's definitely oil," said Kimberly Creel, 41, who was hanging out and swimming with hundreds of other beachgoers. ". . . I can only imagine what might be coming this way that might be larger."

About a half dozen tar balls had been collected by Saturday afternoon at Dauphin Island, Coast Guard chief warrant officer Adam Wine said in Mobile, and crews in protective clothing patrolled the beach for debris.  Authorities planned to test the substance but strongly suspected it came from the oil spill.

In the nearly three weeks since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers, about 210,000 gallons of crude a day has been flowing into the Gulf.  As of Sunday, some 3.5 million gallons had poured into the sea, or about a third of the 11 million gallons spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Until Saturday none of the thick sludge -- those indelible images from the Valdez and other spills -- had reached shore.

It had taken more than 12 hours to slowly lower to the seafloor the peaked box the size of a four-story house, a task that required painstaking precision to accurately position it over the well for fear of damaging the leaking pipe and making the problem worse.  Nothing like it had been attempted at such depths, where water pressure can crush a submarine.

Company and Coast Guard officials had cautioned that icelike hydrates, a slushy mixture of gas and water, would be one of the biggest challenges to the containment box plan.  The crystals clogged the opening in the top of the peaked box, BP's Suttles said, like sand in a funnel, only upside-down.

Options under consideration included raising the box high enough that warmer water would prevent the slush from forming, or using heated water or methanol. Even as officials pondered their next move, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said she must continue to manage expectations.

"This dome is no silver bullet to stop the leak," she said.

The captain of the supply boat that carried the hulking, concrete-and-steel vault for 11 hours from the Louisiana coast last week wasn't giving up hope.

"Everybody knew this was a possibility well before we brought the dome out," Capt. Demi Shaffer, of Seward, Alaska, told an AP reporter stationed with the 12-man crew of the Joe Griffin in the heart of the containment zone.  "It's an everyday occurrence when you're drilling, with the pipeline trying to freeze up."

The spot where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank now teems with vessels working on containing the rogue well.  There are 15 boats and large ships at or near the site -- some being used in an ongoing effort to drill a relief well, considered a permanent if weeks-away fix.

Settling in to a wait-and-see mode, the vessels were making sure they were ready for the long haul.  Late Saturday night, the Joe Griffin pumped roughly 84,000 gallons of fresh water into the tanks of the Ocean Intervention III, one of the vessels with the undersea robots helping in the containment effort.

News that the containment box plan, designed to siphon up to 85 percent of the leaking oil, had faltered dampened spirits in Louisiana's coastal communities.

"Everyone was hoping that that would slow it down a bit if not stop it," said Shane Robichaux, of Chauvin, a 39-year-old registered nurse relaxing at his vacation camp in Cocodrie.  "I'm sure they'll keep working on it till it gets fixed, one way or another.  But we were hopeful that would shut it down."

The original blowout was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP PLC's internal investigation.  Deep sea oil drillers often encounter pockets of methane crystals as they dig into the earth.

As the bubble rose, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers, said Robert Bea, a University of California Berkley engineering professor and oil pipeline expert who detailed the interviews exclusively to an Associated Press reporter.

--Larimer reported from Dauphin Island, Ala. Associated Press writers Ray Henry in Hammond, La., John Curran in Cocodrie, La., and AP Global Media Services Production Manager Nico Maounis in Dauphin Island contributed to this report.