A summary of events on Wednesday, June 2, Day 43 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.
As submersible robots made another risky attempt to control the underwater Gulf oil gusher, the crude on the surface spread, closing in on Florida. BP's stock plummeted Tuesday and took much of the market down with it, and the federal government announced criminal and civil investigations into the spill.
SHEARS AND DELI SLICER
The latest mission for BP PLC involved using a set of tools akin to an oversized deli slicer and garden shears to break away the broken riser pipe so engineers can then position a cap over the well's opening. But it's a big gamble: Even if it succeeds, it will temporarily increase the flow of an already massive leak by 20 percent — at least 100,000 gallons more a day. That's on top of the estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons gushing out already. BP's best chance to actually plug the leak rests with a pair of relief wells. Those won't likely be completed until August.
Florida officials confirmed an oil sheen about nine miles from the famous white sands of Pensacola beach. Crews shored up miles of boom and prepared for the mess to make landfall as early as Wednesday. Florida would be the fourth state hit. Crude has already been reported along barrier islands in Alabama and Mississippi, and it has mucked up some 125 miles of Louisiana coastline.
More federal fishing waters were closed, too, another setback for one of the region's most important industries. More than one-third of federal waters were off-limits for fishing, along with hundreds of square miles of state waters. Fisherman Hong Le, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam, had rebuilt his home and business after Hurricane Katrina wiped him out. Without fishing and welding work on commercial fishing boats, he can't pay the loan for his boat. Le, like other fishermen, received $5,000 from BP PLC, but it was quickly gone.
Attorney General Eric Holder visited the Gulf on Tuesday to survey the fragile coastline and meet with state and federal prosecutors. He would not say who might be targeted in the probes into the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
The federal government also ramped up its response to the spill. President Barack Obama ordered the co-chairmen of an independent commission investigating the spill to thoroughly examine the disaster, "to follow the facts wherever they lead, without fear or favor." The president said that if laws are insufficient, they'll be changed. He said that if government oversight wasn't tough enough, that will change, too.
HOW MANY GALLONS?
Since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, eventually collapsing into the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 20 million to 40 million gallons of oil has spewed, eclipsing the 11 million that leaked from the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Ben Brooks, a lawyer and Republican state senator from coastal Alabama, says he's no fan of big government but he expects an aggressive federal response to the oil spill. "There's nothing inherently contradictory in saying we believe in smaller government and demanding that the government protect public safety," Brooks said. He's not alone. All along the Gulf Coast, where the tea party thrives and "socialism" is a common description for any government program, conservatives who usually denounce federal activism suddenly are clamoring for it.
As oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, actress Victoria Principal has stepped up with a $200,000 donation to help clean things up. Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council say the former "Dallas" star wants the two nonprofits to work together to address the damage along the Gulf Coast and support a shift toward renewable energy. Other celebrities also have become involved. Ted Danson, who is on Oceana's board of directors, is an outspoken critic of offshore drilling. Director James Cameron met with officials to share his expertise on underwater filming and remote vehicle technologies. And Kevin Costner has invested more than $24 million to develop devices now under consideration to help clean up the spill.