A summary of events on Thursday, May 20, Day 30 of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with the April 20 explosion and fire on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well at a rate of at least 210,000 gallons per day.
HOW MUCH: BP
BP conceded Thursday that more oil than it estimated is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as heavy crude washed into Louisiana's wetlands for the first time. Mark Proegler, a spokesman for oil giant BP PLC, said a mile-long tube inserted into a leaking pipe over the weekend is capturing 210,000 gallons a day — previously estimated as the total gushing into the sea — but some is still escaping. He would not say how much. Several professors who have watched video of the leak have said they believe the amount spewing out is much higher than official estimates.
HOW MUCH: FEDS
A federal agency says a task force of scientists is working around the clock to get a better idea how much oil is gushing from the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco would not give a new estimate of how much oil the scientists think is leaking. Lubchenco says it took so long for the government to turn its attention to the flow rate because better video from underwater was needed and the priority was stopping the flow of oil.
The White House is asking BP PLC to publicly disclose more information about the Gulf oil spill including measurements of the size of the leak 5,000 feet under the sea and air quality. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the White House is writing to BP asking the company to put that information on its website and be more transparent about its response.
WHERE IT'S GOING: MARSHES
Heavy, sticky oil was starting to clog Louisiana marshes, while another edge of the partly submerged crude reached a powerful current that could take it to Florida and beyond. Small amounts of light oil have washed up in delicate coastal areas of Louisiana over the past several weeks, but nothing like the brown ooze from the spill that started coating marsh grasses and hanging in the shallow water of a wetland Wednesday. The wetlands at the mouth of the Mississippi are home to rare birds, mammals and a wide variety of marine life.
WHERE IT'S GOING: FLORIDA?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that a small portion of the slick had entered the so-called loop current, a stream of faster moving water that circulates around the Gulf before bending around Florida and up the Atlantic coast. Its arrival may portend a wider environmental catastrophe affecting the Florida Keys and tourist-dotted beaches along the state's east coast. Florida's state meteorologist said it will be at least another seven days before the oil reaches waters west of the Florida Keys.
The loop moves based on shifting winds and other environmental factors, so oil may be in the current one day and out the next. And the slick itself has defied scientists' efforts to track it and predict its path.
The Environmental Protection Agency directed oil giant BP to use a less toxic form of chemical dispersant to break up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Two Obama administration officials confirmed the order Thursday. Some lawmakers and environmental groups have criticized use of the dispersants, which are being shot thousands of feet beneath the sea to break apart the oil and keep it from reaching the surface.
Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen will continue to manage the government's response to the oil spill after stepping down from his post later this month as the Coast Guard's leader. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday that Allen has agreed to stay on as the national incident commander. Commandants are appointed for four-year terms; Allen was appointed May 25, 2006. Allen said that the change would allow him to focus entirely on the spill response.
Managers of a renowned bird sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico say they have found their first dead pelican. Breton National Wildlife Refuge, about eight miles from the Louisiana coast, had been fortunate so far in avoiding the worst of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. On Thursday morning, workers found a young brown pelican on a sand spit with its neck and one wing matted in oil. Refuge biologist James Harris says the pelican was likely killed by the oil.
BP PLC was marshaling equipment and conducting tests Thursday for a new effort to choke off the oil's flow. Crews hoped that by Sunday they can start the "top kill," which involves pumping heavy mud into the crippled equipment on top of the well, then permanently sealing it with cement. The procedure has been used before to halt gushing oil above ground, but it has never been used 5,000 feet below the surface. Scientists and engineers have spent much of the last week preparing for the complex operation and taking measurements to make sure that the mission doesn't backfire.
The U.S. government is not alone in ceding responsibility to the oil industry for the design of key safety features on offshore rigs. Across the globe, industry-driven regulation is the norm, not the exception — and critics are calling for a re-examination of a system that puts crucial safety decisions into the hands of corporations motivated by profit. An Associated Press investigation shows other nations harvesting oil and gas from offshore fields, including Britain, Norway, Australia and Canada, have moved in the same direction: Governments set the general safety standards that must be met, but leave it to rig operators to work out the details.
A live video feed shows the oil gushing from the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts pushed BP PLC to make the video public. It's at http://globalwarming.house.gov/spillcam.
CLIMBING BP HQ
Greenpeace activists scaled BP's London headquarters Thursday to hang a flag accusing the oil company of polluting the environment. The group said the action was prompted by the Gulf oil spill and a controversial project in Canada. "It takes some cheek to go and use a sunflower logo when your business is dirty oil," Greenpeace activist Ben Stewart said. BP spokesman Robert Wine called the action "a very calm and genteel protest," and said no employees had been prevented from getting to work.