A summary of events Thursday, June 24, Day 65 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.
Earlier this month, BP boldly predicted the oil gushing from the bottom of the sea would be reduced to a "relative trickle" within days, and President Barack Obama told the nation last week that as much as 90 percent would soon be captured. But those goals seemed wildly optimistic Thursday after yet another setback a mile underwater. A deep-sea robot bumped into the cap collecting oil from the well, forcing a temporary halt Wednesday to the company's best effort yet to contain the leak. The cap was back in place Thursday, but frustration and skepticism were running high along the Gulf Coast.
While the cap was off, clouds of black oil gushed unchecked again at up to 104,000 gallons per hour, though a specialized ship at the surface managed to suck up and incinerate 438,000 gallons. The oil-burning ship is part of an armada floating at the site of the rogue well some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast and the scene below the surface is no less crowded. At least a dozen robotic submarines dangle from ships at the surface on mile-long cables called "umbilicals," with most of the undersea work taking place within a few hundred yards of the busted well.
A federal judge who overturned a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after the Gulf oil spill refused Thursday to put his ruling on hold while the government appeals. The Justice Department had asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to delay his ruling until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans can review it. Feldman rejected that request Thursday. On Tuesday, he struck down the Interior Department's moratorium that halted approval of new permits for deepwater projects and suspended drilling on 33 exploratory wells. Feldman concluded the government simply assumed that because one deepwater rig went up in flames, others were dangerous, too.
The Justice Department said in court papers that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has instructed all employees not to enforce the moratorium. Rig operators are getting letters that say suspension notices they received have no legal effect right now. But the Justice Department argues that delaying Feldman's ruling would eliminate the risk of another drilling accident while new safety equipment standards and procedures are considered.
The governors of Louisiana and Texas say Sunday will be a day to pray about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a proclamation declaring a day of prayer for perseverance in coping with the environmental crisis caused by the spill. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is urging Texans to pray for the healing of individuals, the rebuilding of communities and the restoration of entire Gulf Coast environment. Experts say the current worst-case estimate of what's spewing into the Gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day from the blown well, polluting shorelines from Louisiana to Florida.
The nation would impose tougher penalties on polluters under legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would require restitution to victims when oil companies or others violate the Clean Water Act, the nation's primary law against water pollution. Currently, restitution is not mandatory. Another provision would direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to amend guidelines so that prison terms reflect the seriousness of an environmental crime. The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act was sent to the full Senate on Thursday. It would apply to offshore drilling accidents.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he supports a two-year ban on government regulators going to work for the oil and gas industry. Salazar told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday that a lifetime ban might be appropriate for some employees, depending on how high they are in the agency that regulates the industry. He made the comments under pointed questioning from Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has criticized the practice of senior Interior employees going to work for the oil and gas industries.
The most memorable comedic take on the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico hasn't come from "Saturday Night Live," ''The Daily Show" or a late-night monologue. Instead, a cheaply made video by an unlikely New York improv troupe has created the only commentary that has truly resonated online: a three-minute spoof that shows BP executives pathetically trying to clean up a coffee spill.
In Florida, thick pools of oil washed up along miles of national park and Pensacola Beach shoreline Wednesday, as health advisories against swimming and fishing in the once-pristine waters were extended for 33 miles east from the Alabama line. An oily young dolphin beached in the sand in the Gulf Islands National Seashore died Wednesday before it could be taken to a rehabilitation center.
The man who inherited the Gulf oil spill response from BP's embattled CEO said Wednesday that Americans have been too quick to blame his company for the environmental disaster now in its third month. "I'm somewhat concerned there is a bit of a rush to justice going on around the investigation and facts," BP PLC managing director Bob Dudley said. He said BP has been unusually open about making its internal investigation public and shared information that no other company would.
Deep-sea exploration will continue in North Sea oil fields off Scotland despite safety concerns raised by the Gulf spill, Britain's energy minister said Thursday. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne told an energy conference in London that regulation is strong enough "to manage the risk of deep-water drilling." Britain announced this month it was doubling the number of inspections at North Sea oil rigs following the Gulf disaster.
The current worst-case estimate of what's spewing into the Gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day. Anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons have spilled since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and blew out the well 5,000 feet underwater. BP PLC was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.
A leaky truck filled with oil-stained sand and absorbent boom soaked in crude pulls away from the beach, leaving tar balls in a public parking lot and a messy trail of sand and water on the main beach road. A few miles away, brown liquid drips out of a disposal bin filled with polluted sand. BP PLC's work to clean up the mess from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history already has generated more than 1,300 tons of solid waste, and companies it hired to dispose of the material say debris is being handled professionally and carefully. A spot check of several container sites by The Associated Press, however, found that's not always the case.
More than five dozen brown pelicans rehabilitated from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico take flight in Texas. The 62 pelicans arrived on Coast Guard cargo planes Wednesday and were released in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge about 175 miles south of Houston.
A federal report confirms what independent scientists have been saying for weeks about the Gulf oil spill: Undersea oil plumes extend for miles from the ruptured well. The report may help measure the effectiveness of spreading chemicals to break up the oil. A summary Wednesday of water sampling last month near the undersea gusher describes a cloud of oil starting around 3,300 feet deep up to 4,600 feet deep and stretching up to 6 miles from the well. The Environmental Protection Agency says there's been no significant harm to sea life, but marine scientist Vernon Asper of the University of Southern Mississippi says the levels are enough to kill fish.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen says two contract workers helping with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup have died. Neither death appears to have a direct connection to the spill. Allen said Wednesday in Washington that one man was killed by what investigators later called a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Allen said the other worker's death involved swimming. He would not provide more details.
A new exhibit at an aquarium in Iowa had intended to showcase the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, it will be void of life to underline the environmental impact of a massive oil spill in the ocean basin. The 40,000-gallon aquarium at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, was supposed to have been teeming with sharks, rays and other fish. Instead, says executive director Jerry Enzler, the main tank will hold water and artificial coral, with window stickers that look like oil.
The House has approved legislation that would give subpoena power to the presidential commission investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Lois Capps, a California Democrat, said Americans want answers from those responsible for the spill, and subpoena power will ensure "no stone goes unturned." Wednesday's only no vote was from Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed BP claims documents Wednesday, after its chairman said the company has not met requests for information about its payments. The committee's voice vote showed bipartisan agreement for Chairman John Conyers' efforts to release claims information to the public. The committee also voted, 16-11, to approve a bill eliminating limits on the amount of money that vessel owners had to pay for deaths and injuries. The bill would let family members collect payments for non-monetary damages such as pain and suffering.
In need of political momentum, Democrats are exploiting Republican Rep. Joe Barton's startling apology to BP for its treatment by the Obama administration, launching a steady, low-budget campaign of fundraising appeals, a pair of television commercials and Web ads. Little more than four months before midterm elections, party officials appear to be testing ways to maximize the gain from a comment that ricocheted across the Capitol at a furious pace last week, and that Republicans deemed significant enough to force Barton to recant.
To a nation frustrated by the Gulf oil spill, BP's attempts at damage control have sometimes been infuriatingly vague. But from a legal standpoint, that's exactly the point. With the company facing more than 200 civil lawsuits and the specter of a Justice Department investigation, saying the wrong thing could expose BP to millions of dollars in damages or even criminal charges for its executives. It's a balancing act with billions of dollars — perhaps even BP's survival — at stake.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is urging the White House to hold a summit with East Coast governors and local officials to ensure they are prepared if oil from the Gulf spill makes its way up the Atlantic coastline. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, made the request in a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Computer models show that the oil could enter the Gulf's loop current, go around the tip of Florida and up the coast.