BP dis­as­ter now likely biggest spill in Gulf of Mex­ico’s his­tory

As waves ham­per cleanup, leak sur­passes 1979 spill

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Jen­nifer Lat­son and Jen­nifer A. Dlouhy

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.”

Amanda McCoy

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