Pressure Piles on BP As Gulf Oil Spill Widens

By | May 24, 2010

BP sharply reduced its estimate on Monday of how much oil it is siphoning off from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico as Washington kept the pressure on the energy giant over the environmental debacle.

British-based BP said the oil collected by the mile (1.6 km)-long siphon tube attached to an undersea pipe was at times as low as 1,360 barrels of oil (57,120 gallons/216,200 litres) per day in the six days before May 23.

On average, BP said, the oil captured during that period was 2,010 barrels per day. Last week the company said it had been siphoning as much as 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons /795,000 litres) per day.

The oil group believes about 5,000 barrels have been leaking every day, although some experts have given significantly higher numbers for the size of the leak.

The lower BP estimates come as members of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Cabinet were to visit the fouled Gulf Coast and follow U.S. criticism of the energy giant’s efforts to stem the gushing oil after more than a month.

The Obama administration warned BP on Sunday it would be removed from efforts to seal the well if it was not seen as doing enough. It acknowledged only the company and the oil industry have the know-how to stop what threatens to become the worst U.S. oil spill.

BP is working on new measures to try to stop the torrent of oil that began after an April 20 explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 workers.

BP shares have taken a beating in the markets since the accident. On Monday, its share price fell 3.8 percent, with sentiment hit by renewed pressure from the Obama administration.

The market looks squarely focused on BP’s effort in the next few days to plug the well completely.

Company engineers are now preparing a “top kill,” pumping heavy fluids into the well to try to shut it off, an operation to begin late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

MARRED MARSHLANDS

Oil has been sloshing into Louisiana’s fragile marshlands and over 65 miles (110 km) of shoreline have been tarred.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, accompanied by a U.S. Senate delegation, were to visit the state on Monday and fly over the affected areas.

Salazar said on Sunday Washington was frustrated and angry that BP has missed “deadline after deadline” in its efforts to seal the well more than a month after an oil rig explosion triggered the disaster.

“If we find they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately,” he said after visiting BP’s U.S. headquarters in Houston.

The spill has raised questions about Obama’s earlier proposal to expand offshore drilling as part of a strategy to win Republican support for climate change legislation. Analysts say ecological and economic damage from the spill could become a political liability before November congressional elections.

Jindal on Sunday slammed both the federal government and BP for failing to act fast enough.

“It is clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here: boom, skimmers, vacuums, jack-up barges are all in short supply,” he told a news conference in Venice.

“Oil sits and waits for cleanup and every day that it waits for cleanup more and more marsh dies.”

Many scientists have warned the spreading oil could increasingly be caught in a powerful ocean current that could take it to the Florida Keys, Cuba and the U.S. East Coast.

Obama on Saturday blamed the mess on “a breakdown of responsibility” at BP.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Young; Writing by Ed Stoddard and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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