Published November 20, 2014
A summary of events Tuesday, June 22, Day 63 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.
A federal judge struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, saying the government rashly concluded that because one rig failed, the others are in immediate danger, too. The White House promised an immediate appeal. The Interior Department had halted approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling of 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.
Oil executives meeting in London sent a strong challenge to President Barack Obama, warning at a major oil conference that his ban on risky deepwater drilling would cripple world energy supplies. As a BP executive standing in for embattled CEO Tony Hayward was heckled by protesters, other industry leaders used the gathering to rally around the British company, arguing that eliminating deepsea rigs in the wake of the spill was unsustainable. BP's stock slid to a 13-year-low in London and near a 14-year low in the U.S., and the oil giant confirmed that Hayward was already in the process of handing over control of the spill to managing director Bob Dudley.
A containment device is sucking up some of the oil gushing from the well. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said it had collected nearly 1.1 million gallons in 24 hours, a new record. No one knows exactly how much oil is spilling, but BP hopes to contain as much as 90 percent of it over the next few weeks. The current worst-case estimate is about 2.5 million gallons a day. Some of the oil being captured will be brought to shore, refined and sold, and BP said it will donate the proceeds to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Louisiana's oyster industry has been brought to a standstill since oil began gushing into the Gulf in April. Oyster beds have been closed — mostly as a precaution — and fishermen have been put on oil spill duty. Red Lobster said it is taking oysters off its menus when its supply runs out in a few weeks. Though oysters are grown from the Northeast's Long Island Sound to Humboldt Bay in California, industry officials estimate that 60 to 70 percent of the oysters eaten in the U.S. come from the Gulf. Those Gulf oysters grow in submerged beds from Texas to Florida, with Louisiana accounting for more than half of the supply.
$20 BILLION FUND
Kenneth Feinberg, tapped by the White House to run a $20 billion fund for people hurt by the spill, pledged to speed payments to fishermen, business owners and others who have lost money. BP PLC claims director Darryl Willis visited a claims center in a rundown strip mall in Bayou La Batre, Ala., and said the company has already cut 37,000 checks for $118 million. Claims totaling about $600 million have been filed so far.
People up and down the Gulf Coast reeling from the spill disaster are surprised — and frustrated — to find out the Internal Revenue Service may take a chunk of the payments BP PLC is providing to help them stay afloat. Accountants have been trying to nail down the implications for thousands of taxpayers after President Barack Obama said BP would create a $20 billion disaster fund and provide another $100 million for oil workers who lose their jobs because of the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
The oil is threatening to suffocate Sargassum algae — sometimes called sea holly or Gulf weed — dealing a blow to fisheries and the ecosystem that scientists say may take years to recover. As the algae dies in the Gulf, less of the vital plant will reach the Sargasso Sea — some 3,000 miles away through the loop current — potentially harming that ecosystem as well.
A marine scientist says underwater oil plumes are reducing oxygen in parts of the Gulf of Mexico, but the drop-off isn't steep enough to endanger marine life just yet. Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia says water samples show oxygen concentrations within the plumes are dropping 1 to 2 percent each day, a rate that would take months to reach levels hazardous for fish and other animals.