BP officials "sounded hopeful" Friday evening about their progress in diverting oil from their blowout well through a containment cap into a drill ship, the Los Angeles Times reported. -- But they cautioned that "it would be a day or more before they could judge how successful the cap was at containing the leak," Bettina Boxall and Peter Nicholas said. -- "President Obama, who arrived in Louisiana on his third trip to the gulf since the Deepwater Horizon explosion April 20. After meeting with local and gulf state officials, he criticized the oil giant for mounting an expensive advertising campaign and considering dividend payments." -- BP's CEO, meanwhile, increasingly derided in the media, came up with his latest Haywardism: "[S]tick and stones can hurt your bones, but will never break them, whatever the expression is." -- The Houston Chronicle emphasized late Friday that "BP still does not know how much oil the device will collect from the well." -- (The BP's live video feed from the sea floor was showing a jittery black screen saying "NO VIDEO" as of midnight PDT Friday.) -- Down on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the tone was dire. -- "'In Revelations it says the water will turn to blood,' said P.J. Hahn, director of coastal zone management for Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. 'That's what it looks like out here -- like the Gulf is bleeding. This is going to choke the life out of everything.' Hahn added: 'It makes me want to cry,'" the News Press of Fort Myers, Florida, reported early Saturday. ...
Gulf oil spill
BP STARTS PIPING LEAKING OIL TO SHIP
By Bettina Boxall and Peter Nicholas
** Officials are cautiously optimistic that a new cap will divert most of the crude. Obama visits the gulf and scolds the company. **
Los Angeles Times
June 4, 2010 -- 1808 PDT
LOS ANGELES & KENNER, Louisiana -- In a sign that BP may be on the verge of subduing its uncontrolled well, oil started flowing through a containment cap into a drill ship Friday, even as President Obama chastised the company for launching a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.
As engineers gradually ramped up the flow to the ship Enterprise, cautious BP officials said it would be a day or more before they could judge how successful the cap was at containing the leak that is feeding the largest spill in U.S. history.
But after a string of failures to contain the spewing well beneath the Gulf of Mexico, they sounded hopeful. "Things are going as planned," said BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells about 12 hours into the operation. "I'm quite encouraged."
With its stock price plummeting and its chief executive under attack, BP came in for another scolding Friday from President Obama, who arrived in Louisiana on his third trip to the gulf since the Deepwater Horizon explosion April 20.
After meeting with local and gulf state officials, he criticized the oil giant for mounting an expensive advertising campaign and considering dividend payments.
"My understanding is that BP had contracted for $50 million worth of TV advertising to manage their image in the course of this disaster," the president said in remarks to reporters. "In addition, there are reports that BP will be paying $10.5 billion in dividend payments this quarter."
"Now, I don't have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations," Obama added. "What I don't want to hear is that they're spending that kind of money on shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, [but] they're nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the gulf who are having a hard time."
BP has been expected to announce it would maintain dividend payments, but Obama's comments seemed aimed at changing the company's mind. Last year, it reported $27 billion in cash flow from operating activities. So far, it has spent more than $1 billion on the spill response.
In a conference call Friday with investors and analysts, BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward said the oil industry needs better safety technology. As an example he cited the "fail-safe blowout preventer, which this incident has clearly demonstrated is not fail-safe."
"The paradigm in which BP and the wide industry operates needs to change," Hayward said.
In addressing criticism for his handling of the disaster, Hayward said it was "right that I should be the lightning rod." He added that "stick and stones can hurt your bones, but will never break them, whatever the expression is."
Strong winds Friday were propelling pieces of the slick toward the Florida Panhandle and threatening the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi, which have so far largely escaped the tendrils of crude extending from the leak site.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the head of the federal disaster response, worried that as wind breaks up the massive spill into smaller slicks moving in different directions, it will strain cleanup resources and make the oil harder to fight.
Scientists with the University of South Florida said laboratory tests had confirmed that at least two extensive plumes detected underwater miles from the leak are from the spill, the Associated Press reported.
Hayward has said there was no evidence of large underwater plumes, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been reluctant to identify them without conclusive lab evidence.
In its start-up stage, the cap operation was capturing only a fraction of the estimated 500,000 to 800,000 gallons of oil that has been rushing into the gulf daily for six weeks. Friday, dark clouds of escaping gas and oil continued to swirl around the cap, which was seated on the blown-out deep-sea well Thursday night.
But in a round of interviews, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said that when fully operational, the device "should capture the vast majority" of crude flowing from the damaged well.
BP has tried a variety of fixes only to see them stumble on the challenges of working at a depth of 5,000 feet, where the water pressure is crushing and only underwater robots can venture.
A big containment dome placed over the leak was quickly clogged by slushy gas hydrates. An elaborate "top kill" operation to plug the well with heavy drilling fluids was abandoned when it became apparent the upward force of the spouting oil was too great to overcome.
BP and federal officials then shifted to a containment strategy, involving the cap, while they work on the ultimate solution: two relief wells, now being drilled, that will be used to pump cement into the bottom of the damaged well, permanently sealing it.
Engineers were implementing the cap procedure slowly and carefully to avoid pressure and hydrate problems. The cap was placed on the well with open vents to allow oil to continue to escape and to prevent the device from being lifted by the well's gushing oil.
The vents were being gradually closed through the day Friday to force more oil up the riser pipe leading to the ship, where gas is being flared and the oil processed.
Warm water shooting through an outer pipe will continuously bathe the riser to prevent the formation of gas hydrates. Substitute caps are sitting nearby on the seafloor in case something goes awry with the one now in use.
BP also plans to draw oil from the well using hoses that pumped drilling mud during the top kill operation.
--Boxall reported from Los Angeles and Nicholas from Kenner. Times staff writers Margot Roosevelt in Los Angeles and Tina Susman in New Orleans contributed to this report.
CAP ON WELL OFFERS A BIT OF HOPE
By Monica Hatcher and Sharon Hong
** BP says device is collecting some of the spewing oil **
June 4, 2010 -- 2346 CDT [2146 PDT]
After devastating failures to rein in an escalating disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP offered a fatigued and skeptical nation a sliver of hope Friday, saying it had attached a new containment cap to a spewing well and was capturing some crude.
Work continued into the night to shut four vents on the device that were still letting thousands of barrels of oil billow into the Gulf, feeding a spill that is smothering seabirds, fouling marshes and beaches and crippling coastal economies. On the sugar-white beaches of Florida's panhandle, tar balls began washing ashore Friday.
BP still does not know how much oil the device will collect from the well, which is gushing 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day -- at least half a million gallons -- according to government estimates. Some is expected to continue seeping from a seal connecting the cap to the well even if the system can be optimized.
“I am encouraged, but we must remember we now have 12 hours experience with this. It's never been done at 5,000 feet before,” Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president for exploration and production, said Friday afternoon in a technical briefing.
President Barack Obama visited the region Friday for the second time in eight days to meet with retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, Gulf state governors and local people affected by the spill.
In Kenner, La., the president noted that “people are understandably frightened and concerned about what the next few months and the next few years may hold.” He also criticized the British oil giant for spending $50 million on an advertising campaign and for considering dividend payments to shareholders in the midst of the crisis.
“What I don't want to hear is, when they're spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they're nickeling and diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time,” Obama said.
EMERGENCY FUNDS LOW
As the government's environmental response entered its 46th day, Adm. Allen and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that emergency funds were low, and asked Congress to transfer more money from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The spill fund is collected from oil producers through a 5-cent-per-barrel tax.
As of Tuesday, the government has spent more than $93 million in emergency funds on response efforts, all of which is to be repaid by BP.
The company, which is responsible for paying for the spill cleanup as owner of the well, said Friday it had spent more than $1 billion on the response since the spill, including cleanup efforts and the drilling of two relief wells.
It said it will burn through money at about the same rate until at least the end of the year. BP noted it faces untold billions more for environmental remediation, damage claims, and litigation.
ROBOTS BUSY ON SEAFLOOR
CEO Tony Hayward told investors Friday the spill's financial impact on BP will be severe, but that strong cash flow, a valuable asset base, more than 18 billion barrels of proved oil reserves and 63 billion barrels of potential oil and gas resources will help it weather the storm.
“All of this gives us significant flexibility in dealing with the costs of this incident,” Hayward said.
He also said BP will spin off a company to deal with the long-term spill response, and announced that BP managing director Bob Dudley, an American, will run it.
BP's Wells said undersea robots were working to close chimney-like vents and boost the flow of oil and gas through the containment device via pipe to a surface ship.
He said operators must work carefully to keep icy methane hydrates from clogging the pipe, and to prevent high pressures from lifting the cap off the well.
It is hoped the containment cap, installed Thursday night, will draw up nearly all the oil leaking from the blown well, though Wells sought to temper expectations Friday.
“It'll take us a few days to get up to peak efficiency,” he said.
--This report includes material from the Associated Press.
GULF OIL SPILL NEWS: 'GULF IS BLEEDING' . . . ITS SHORES TURN RED
** Panhandle is added to victims of oil spill **
News Press (Fort Myers, FL)
June 5, 2010 -- 0110 EDT
With its arrival on the Panhandle, oil from the BP disaster has now reached the shores of four Gulf states -- Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in addition to Florida -- turning their marshlands into death zones for wildlife and staining beaches rust and crimson.
One official said the affliction brings to mind the plagues and punishments of the Bible.
"In Revelations it says the water will turn to blood," said P.J. Hahn, director of coastal zone management for Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. "That's what it looks like out here -- like the Gulf is bleeding. This is going to choke the life out of everything."
Hahn added: "It makes me want to cry."
Six weeks after the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers, the well has leaked somewhere between 22 million and 47 million gallons of oil, according to government estimates.
A device resembling an upside-down funnel was lowered over the blown-out well a mile beneath the sea to try to capture most of the oil and direct it to a ship, Enterprise, on the surface. As engineers gradually ramped up the flow to the ship, cautious officials said it would be a day or more before they could judge how successful the cap is containing the leak feeding the largest spill in U.S. history. But after a string of failures to contain the spewing well, they sounded hopeful.
"Progress is being made, but we need to caution against overoptimism," said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man. Early in the day, he guessed that the cap was collecting 42,000 gallons a day -- less than a tenth of the amount leaking.
Still, crude continued to escape through vents designed to prevent ice crystals from clogging the cap. Engineers hoped to close several vents throughout the day.
One unanswered question was whether the cap fit snugly. BP sheared off the well pipe before installing the cap but was unable to make a smooth cut.
As the operation went on at the bottom of the Gulf, the effect of the BP spill was increasingly evident.
At Grand Isle, La., whose population usually swells to 20,000 beachgoers during the summer, pelicans coated in oil flailed in the surf.
At Gulf Shores, Ala., Wendi Butler spotted clumps of tar in the surf and was repelled by the heavy odor of oil.
"It smells like a flight line. I know, my ex-husband was in the Air Force. He would come home from work every day smelling like this," said Butler, of Perdido Bay, Fla. "You don't smell the beach breeze at all."
Meanwhile, BP's CEO Tony Hayward, in the first comprehensive update to shareholders since the explosion, assured investors that the company has "considerable firepower" to cope with the severe costs. BP shares have lost around a third of their value since the blowout as investors fear soaring cleanup costs and worry about BP's ability to pay a dividend -- a major concern of British pension funds.