A summary of events on Friday, June 18, Day 59 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.
The chairman of BP said embattled chief executive Tony Hayward is being relieved of day-to-day responsibility for managing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. According to the transcript of an interview with Sky News television, chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg Svanberg says that Hayward "is now handing over the operations, the daily operations to (BP Managing Director) Bob Dudley." It comes a day after Hayward's grilling by a House committee. Hayward's refusal to answer lawmakers' questions, claiming that he was out of the loop, left many committee members furious. BP had announced June 4 that Dudley would lead the long-term response to the oil spill once the leak had been stopped. A BP spokesman in Houston, Tristan Vanhegan, said the "board still has confidence in Tony."
BP said it has paid a higher percentage of claims to those harmed by the Gulf spill than was indicated by data from the House Judiciary Committee. The committee said in a statement that only $71 million out of an estimated $600 million had been paid as of Tuesday. By dollar value, the House tally equals less than 12 percent of what's been claimed. But, as of Friday, BP spokesman Scott Dean said the dollar value of payouts was $95 million. Dean also said in an e-mail that the company has paid about half of the 60,000 claims made so far. In other words, the company has cut 30,000 checks.
The head of a new office created to process claims from the BP oil spill said a plan to handle the remaining damage claims will be in place in 30 to 45 days. Kenneth Feinberg was chosen by President Barack Obama and BP to oversee the Independent Claims Facility. Speaking in Jackson, Miss., Feinberg said he also plans to have a program going forward that would guarantee that people making claims in the future would receive them within 30 to 60 days of submitting it.
Vast amounts of natural gas contained in crude escaping from the blown well could pose a serious threat to marine life by creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives. The danger presented by the methane has been largely overlooked, with early efforts to monitor the oil spill focusing on the more toxic components of oil. But scientists are increasingly worried about the gas that can suffocate sea creatures in high concentrations. At least 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas — and possibly almost twice that amount — have leaked since April 20. That's based on estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey's "flow team" that 2,900 cubic feet of natural gas are escaping for every barrel of oil.
Oil industry groups said the spill doesn't necessarily indicate problems with how environmental laws are applied in granting drilling permits. Anadarko Petroleum, which has a part interest in the well that blew up, submitted comments to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which is completing a 30-day review of the issue. So did the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas trade group. In the wake of the explosion, reports have suggested that government regulators skirted requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act. Anadarko said it did not believe implementation of environmental policies "in any way played a role in this event."
Gulf Coast environmentalists and business owners are skeptical of President Barack Obama's plan to have his point man for recovery perform his job part-time. And they're worried the cleanup will become mired in bureaucratic deliberations. Obama tapped Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus this week for a job leading the environmental and economic recovery. His job is no less than rebuilding a region that was still suffering from Hurricane Katrina and beset by decades of environmental problems even before the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Mabus is not stepping down from his day job, in which he oversees 900,000 Navy and Marine personnel.
At least 22 nations — including Britain, where BP is based — have offered oil-collecting skimmers, boom, technical experts and more to help the U.S. cope with its worst-ever environmental disaster. But their generosity comes with a price tag. The State Department confirmed that nearly every offer of equipment or expertise from a foreign government since the rig explosion would require the U.S. to reimburse that country.
Far from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and their bosses' frantic attempts at damage control, BP workers for the oil giant are dodging awkward glances and tactfully avoiding any mention that they work for what may be America's public enemy No. 1. In interviews with The Associated Press, more than a dozen BP employees from Alaska to North Carolina say they still love the company that has paid and treated them well for years. Now, they are just careful whom they share it with. In BP's case, the public scorn is so great that a corporate security official felt compelled to send employees a memo warning them to keep a low profile and stay aware of their surroundings.
It's nearly impossible to avoid the live video of the coal-gray oil gushing from BP's well a mile below the Gulf of Mexico's surface. According to an Associated Press-GfK Poll this week, 88 percent of the public has viewed it. The video is a daily reminder that two months after the oil rig explosion that killed 11 and caused the massive leak and resulting environmental and economic damage, BP still hasn't plugged the well.