BP disaster now likely biggest spill in Gulf of Mexico’s history
As waves hamper cleanup, leak surpasses 1979 spill
Stormy seas continued to hamper cleanup efforts Thursday as BP’s oil spill eclipsed a grim record, becoming by one measure the largest spill ever in the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on the upper end of a range of government estimates, the spill passed the 140-million-gallon mark, surpassing the massive 1979 to 1980 Ixtoc I spill off Mexico.
While Hurricane Alex passed more than 500 miles west of the gushing well 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, high swells generated by the storm kept BP from skimming or burning surface oil and halted the placement of new sections of booms.
Drilling ships continued to bore a relief well that is expected to plug the well in the next few weeks — slightly ahead of a mid-August target date — said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who commands the multipronged spill response.
“We’re now amassing our forces to move back out once the weather allows us to get back on the water and skim,” Allen said Thursday.
That could be sometime A cleanup worker clears a patch of oil by hand in Gulfport, Miss., on Thursday as estimates showed that the BP spill is now the largest ever in the Gulf. this weekend, depending on weather, he said.
The rough weather also has also stalled the installation of a new ship that would roughly double the amount of crude siphoned up from the spewing well.
Once connected to the well, the Helix Producer would bring BP’s combined oil collection capacity to 53,000 barrels per day, Allen said.
Scientists on a government panel estimate that the well is spilling oil at the rate of 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day, 2.5 million gallons at the high end.
The new vessel will connect by flexible hose to a new riser pipe running from the well to a buoy that keeps the riser far enough below the surface to miss storm effects. It will take about three days to make the connection after swells calm below 5 feet, Allen said.
On Thursday, the House passed legislation that would increase corporate liability and lift caps on damage payments to victims’ families in such accidents.
A tangle of court rulings and federal laws now impose some liability limits and create a discrepancy between the payouts allowed for onshore and offshore accidents.
For example, one statute caps a ship owner’s legal responsibility at the value of the damaged ship and its cargo. In the case of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig, the value is effectively zero. Another federal law could block the family members of the 11 dead workers on the Deepwater Horizon from receiving loss-of-companionship damages, even though such claims are allowed with onshore accidents.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said the proposal would update archaic liability laws and bring them into the 21st century.
But Rep. Lamar Smith, RSan Antonio, said that it would make sweeping changes to liability and maritime laws without sufficient debate.
“This bill changes maritime law for everyone,” Smith said, “not just for those involved in the oil spill.”