A summary of events on Wednesday, May 26, Day 35 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.
BP on Wednesday launched its latest bid to plug the gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud, a maneuver known as a "top kill" that has never before been tried 5,000 feet underwater. The oil giant's chief executive earlier gave the procedure a 60 to 70 percent chance of working, and President Barack Obama cautioned Wednesday there were "no guarantees." BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the company will pump mud for hours, and officials have indicated it may be a couple of days before they know whether the procedure is working. The top kill involves pumping enough mud into the gusher to overcome the flow of oil, and engineers plan to follow it up with cement to try to permanently seal the well.
A live video stream showed pictures of the oil gushing and the blowout preventer, the five-story device the mud was being pumped into. A weak spot in the device could blow under the pressure, causing a brand new leak. Gene Beck, a petroleum engineering professor at Texas A&M in College Station, said the endeavor would likely fail quickly if the mud could not overcome the pressure of the oil.
Witness statements obtained by The Associated Press show senior managers complained BP was "taking shortcuts" the day of the explosion by replacing heavy drilling fluid with saltwater in the well that blew out. Truitt Crawford, a roustabout for drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd., told Coast Guard investigators about the complaints. The seawater, which would have provided less weight to contain surging pressure from the ocean depths, was being used to prepare for dropping a final blob of cement into the well. BP declined to comment on Crawford's statement.
Witness statements show workers talked just minutes before the blowout about pressure problems in the well. At first, nobody seemed too worried: The chief mate for Transocean left two crew members to deal with the issue on their own. What began as a routine pressure problem, however, suddenly turned to panic. The workers called bosses to report a situation, with assistant driller Stephen Curtis telling one senior operator that the well was "coming in." Someone told well site leader Donald Vidrine that they were "getting mud back." The drilling supervisor, Jason Anderson, tried to shut down the well. It didn't work. Curtis and Anderson were among the 11 men who died in the explosion.
Dramatic rate cuts are luring visitors to Gulf Coast resorts despite a massive oil spill that threatens beaches and salt marshes from Texas to Florida, but it's too early to say whether the disaster will leave a more permanent stain on Southeastern tourism.
During the first two weeks of May, hotels within 10 miles of the coast in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama saw occupancy rates rise dramatically — in some cases by a third or more over the same time last year, according to an industry data firm. But experts say it's too soon to gauge the broad economic impact of the April 20 explosion at an oil rig leased by BP-PLC that killed 11 workers off the Louisiana coast, triggering what is expected to become the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Much as he hates to say it, Mark Leonard knows it's true: The oil spill that is fouling the Gulf of Mexico may save his family's business. Leonard, 34, is operations manager for Coastal Tank Cleaning, a company called in to help set booms to prevent oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak from getting into Lake Pontchartrain. The Morgan City-based company sent 10 workers and equipment to a staging area at Fort Pike, on the eastern tip of New Orleans. The spill, now a month old, could end up killing the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen, restaurant workers, charter boat captains and tourism employees. But for now, it's triggering a mini-boom in other jobs across the five-state region.
Federal officials say Louisiana's request for a coastal sand barrier to block the oil slick pushing in from the Gulf of Mexico could inadvertently funnel oil deeper into unprotected areas and onto neighboring Mississippi. Documents released Wednesday show federal officials are concerned the barrier could alter tides and end up driving oil east — into Mississippi Sound, the Biloxi Marshes and Lake Borgne. Eager to build the berms before the damage gets worse, Louisiana officials say they would delay construction on parts of the barrier to meet the concerns, raised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The population of counties situated along the Gulf of Mexico is rising sharply but demographers warn that the trend won't last because of a constant threat of hurricanes and uncertainty over the current oil spill. An analysis by the Census Bureau, released Wednesday, details the twist-and-turn growth of U.S. coastline areas which contain roughly 87 million, or 29 percent, of the nation's population. It also underscores the stakes for a fast-growing Gulf region in the wake of the massive oil spill. Louisiana fears its natural wildlife and multimillion dollar seafood industry could be ruined for years, while Florida tourism officials are launching ads to make clear the five-week-old spill has not affected their sandy beaches.
BP says it has paid at least $29 million to people claiming economic losses because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The oil company said in court documents Tuesday in Louisiana that it has yet to deny any claims. Many of the claims are from fishermen and shrimpers. BP said 25,000 claims have been submitted and more than 12,000 payments have been made so far. BP is trying to block an attempt by some fishermen to get a federal judge to oversee the claims process. BP says the 1990 Oil Pollution Act gives the Coast Guard oversight responsibilities.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the "heartbreaking" oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico underscores the urgent need for alternative fuel sources to feed the U.S. energy needs. Notable for a president who has proposed expanding offshore drilling, Obama said that the kind of deepwater drilling used by the rig that exploded five weeks ago is risky and costly. He didn't say he opposes the method but noted the danger in having to go down a mile to hit seabed and then drill another mile to find oil.