May 12, 2010

Who’s To Blame For The Gulf Oil Spill?

Three corporations laid blame on each other Tuesday for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is threatening the environment and the economy, as lawmakers interrogated oil company executives over the disaster.

BP, Transocean and Halliburton faced off during the first day of congressional hearings for the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and led to one of the worst oil spills in US history.

Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, who led the hearing, laid blame on a "cascade of failures" but stopped short of proposing judgments for the banning of offshore drilling.

In a written testimony, rig operator BP blamed rig owner Transocean for failure of the giant blowout preventer valve which made it impossible to regain control of the well.

But Transocean chief Steven Newman said the blame should be on BP, stressing that "all offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator."

Newman also put blame on Halliburton, stating that the oil services company was responsible for vital cement work around the wellhead, which should have sealed the well until full production began.

Moments before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing began, demonstrators showed their anger with BP. Some quietly protested with black teardrops painted on their faces, while others shouted out "BP kills wildlife, BP kills people, BP kills the planet."

Although BP has not accepted any blame for the incident, it has taken responsibility in the clean-up and is leading efforts to halt the 200,000-plus gallons of oil from spilling out into the sea each day.

A giant dome was lowered over the leak on Friday but failed after becoming clogged with ice crystals by Sunday and was no longer able to function as a funnel to divert the oil to an awaiting tanker on the surface.

BP is working feverishly to create a smaller version of the dome, dubbed the "top hat", which it will lower over the leak nearly a mile down on the sea floor.

BP is also drilling a relief well, which began on May 2, that could divert the flow until the well is permanently sealed, but the new well may not be ready until August, leaving engineers frantically searching for alternatives.

Another possible solution BP sees is to inject golf balls, tires and other debris into the main leak and jam it up. The move could be risky, as experts warn that tinkering with the blowout preventer could force crude to shoot out up to 12 times faster than it currently is.

As desperation looms to find a solution, the oil slick continues to grow off the Louisiana coast. The slick, the size of a small country, is sending large expanses of sheen into vital shipping avenues and encroaching on already ecologically fragile nature reserves.

President Obama has sent officials led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu to meet with BP representatives in Houston, Texas to ensure the company is doing everything possible to find possible solutions to the crisis.

Obama has also requested legislation be sent to Congress to reform existing laws to cap oil spill damages in the billions rather than in the millions of dollars.

The scale of the disaster was unprecedented and the spill "has the potential to be worse than anything we've seen," Obama's head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, told CNN.

A partial ban is already underway in the region, putting a huge strain on Louisiana's 2.4 billion dollar fishing industry, and many species of animals are at risk in a region that is a major migratory spot for rare birds and is also a vital spawning ground for fish, shrimp and crabs.


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