BP Oil Cleanup Will Take Months – Restoration, Years

WASHINGTON, DC, June 7, 2010 (ENS) – BP is capturing some of the oil spewing from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico, but spilled oil on the surface will take months to clean up and restoring the habitat will take years, says the coordinator of the federal government’s spill response.

At a White House news conference this morning, National Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said, “Currently, we are capturing about 15,000 barrels a day. But the day the well is capped, we’ll still be dealing with oil at least four to six weeks after that.”

National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen (Image courtesy The White House)

Admiral Allen said it is not yet possible to know how much oil is still spilling from the broken wellhead because “We still haven’t established what the flow rate is.”

On May 27, the National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group, using three different methods, established a wide range of flow from 12,000 to 25,000 barrels per day.

A total of 130 miles of the gulf coastline is impacted linearly, the admiral said, but that doesn’t tell the whole story because oil can impact the shore “very far into the marshlands.”

Admiral Allen said we will be “ruthless in the oversight of BP,” to ensure that the flow of oil into the gulf is stopped, the damage is repaired and people are compensated for loss of livelihood.

“The containment process going faily well,” said Allen. Technicians are warming the oil as it comes up to avoid the formation of icy crystals called gas hydrates that could block the flow.

BP will gradually close valves on the containment cap to force more oil up the pipe into the Discoverer Enterprise drillship on the surface. Admiral Allen said if it is needed, the company will bring another ship in from the North Sea to handle the greater volume of oil being produced.

President Barack Obama flies over the oil-stained Gulf of Mexico in Marine One. June 4, 2010. (Photo courtesy The White House)

“We need to keep production going because it alleviates pressure on the wellbore,” the admiral explained. The goal is to keep the oil coming up the riser pipe instead of being forced under pressure into geological structures under the seafloor to blow out in other places.

“We wouldn’t want to force oil down the wellbore and force it out the strata and have it come out in different places on the seafloor,” Allen said.

By mid-June, BP also intends to install an enhanced production system that will run in parallel with the containment cap currently in place.

By early July, BP expects to have a more permanent system in place which should be more robust in the event of hurricanes. Forecasters predict an extremely active Atlantic hurricane season.

The final resolution lies in the relief wells, which are targeted for completion in August. These are expected to completely stop the flow of oil and gas from the well.

National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen (Image courtesy The White House)

The nature of this oil spill has changed dramatically since day one, Admiral Allen said. “First we had a lot of oil in one place, now it’s disaggregated into many different spills.” When it came to the surface, the oil was broken up by dispersants, skimming or burning, and it has been moved around by winds and tidal currents.

The oil has come ashore in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi and today, a Sentry Plan was initiated to provide real-time ocean monitoring off the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas.

Vessels will be used to conduct maritime patrols to provide early identification of any weathered oil products such as light sheen, which will naturally dissipate, or mousse mats and tar balls that could potentially threaten the Florida Keys and east coast of Florida, the Coast Guard said.

A vessel has departed from John’s Pass, near St. Petersburg on the first patrol and patrols will generally last from four to 10 days. These vessels are intended to provide a minimum of 48-hours additional notice so responders can maximize preparedness and response activities and notify the public.

There have been no reports of Deepwater Horizon oil reaching shore in the Florida Peninsula and there is no indication that it will have impacts from weathered oil products in the near future. The Sentry Plan and other Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill activities in the Florida Panhandle are being coordinated by the Incident Command Post in Mobile, Alabama.

“As this thing gets broad and goes across many different authorities, we have to change our command and control structure to adapt to a spill of a size and complexity that has never happened before in this country,” Admiral Allen said today.

President Barack Obama meets with residents of Grande Isle, Louisiana, June 4, 2010. (Photo courtesy The White House)

The oil spill is having an unprecedented impact on the livelihoods of thousands of people in communities along the gulf coast.

On Friday, President Barack Obama met with some of the affected residents of Grande Isle, Louisiana and assured them he would press BP to meet their claims for damages and lost income due to the oil spill.

Speaking alongside Admiral Allen, federal officials and Gulf Coast governors, the President criticized BP for spending money on a public relations campaign and for planning to pay the annual $10 billion a year dividend to the company’s shareholders.

“I want BP to be very clear – they’ve got moral and legal obligations here in the gulf for the damage that has been done. And 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 nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time.”

Obama ate a meal of shrimp, crawfish, new potatoes and corn on the cob with local residents at a picnic table overlooking the water, with two shrimping boats docked behind him.

The President spoke sympathetically of oysterman Floyd Lasseigne’s oyster beds, where oil has begun seeping in. Lasseigne, who usually harvests oysters, shrimp and crab, said he is a fourth generation oysterman facing a near-total shutdown at the height of the season.

Convenience store owner Patti Rigaud told Obama her business is down 85 percent.

“You’ve got $2 billion of seafood that comes out of the estuary right behind me,” said Grande Isle Mayor David Camardelle. “If we lose the estuaries in the back, we’re history. There’s no reason that shrimper should be tied up behind me. It should have skimmers on it,” Camardelle said. “I’m asking you to push BP to do it.”

Wearing mask, gloves, boots and suit, a cleanup worker attempts to deal with the mess. Grand Terre, Louisiana, June 3, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The President said he has asked Admiral Allen to look at the deployment of resources “to make sure people who know these waters best have work” saving them.

Today, Allen said the “vessels of opportunity,” program is employing thousands of local vessels in the cleanup. “These are watermen who know these areas can choose the right type of skimmer for the situation,” he said.

To date, approximately 37,000 claims have been submitted and more than 18,000 payments already have been made, totalling approximately $48 million. BP has received more than 152,000 calls into its help lines.

In a teleconference briefing on Saturday, Darryl Willis, vice president of resources with BP America, said the company will pay lost wages claims again in June. He said the total paid by the end of June will be more than $84 million.

On average, it takes five days from the time people make a call requesting a claim to the time they receive a check, said Willis. “When a person walks into our office with documents showing how much they make, in 30 minutes they will walk out of our office with a check.”

Willis said those who received a check in May will not have to come into a BP claims center again to receive a June check.

“They will also receive a letter in English, Vietnamese or Spanish that describes process going forward,” he said. “Folks don’t have to come into any office to get the second check. We will continue to pay as long as they are not making a living.”

The BP leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded April 20 and sank April 22 after burning, leaking record amounts of crude oil from the broken wellhead into the gulf. Eleven crewmembers are missing and presumed dead.

BP’s cost to date totals $1.25 billion, including the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid, and federal costs. This excludes the $360 million in funds for the Louisiana barrier islands construction project. As lawsuits continue to pile up, the company says it is too early to quantify other potential costs and liabilities associated with the incident.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.