U.S. has spent $140 million in oil cleanup, official says

(CNN) — The U.S. government has spent about $140 million in cleaning up the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s response manager, said Friday.

Allen said federal authorities plan to keep “pouring in assets.”

More than 4 million gallons of oil have been recovered so far from the gushing well, he said.

Federal authorities are considering BP’s proposals for increased oil collection rates and backup plans and will make a determination later Friday on whether they are acceptable, Allen said. BP had been given 72 hours to deliver its plans.

Researchers have doubled estimates of how much oil has been spewing from a ruptured well, reporting Thursday that up to 40,000 barrels, or 1.7 million gallons, a day may have escaped for weeks.

If the latest estimate is correct, that would mean 90.1 million gallons have spewed in the 53 days since the rig exploded. That’s more than eight times the amount spilled by the supertanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989.

Day 53: The latest developments

Meanwhile, a delegation of U.S. senators head to the heart of coastal Louisiana on Friday to assess the damage caused by the growing oil disaster.

Sens. Benjamin Cardin, David Vitter, Jeff Merkley and Barbara Mikulski, will be in Grand Isle, Louisiana, one of the early areas hit by the slick created by the underwater gusher.

The senators are the latest in a virtual parade of Washington officials to make the trip to the Gulf Coast. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was in the region Thursday, while President Obama is scheduled to make his fourth trip to the region next week.

The attention from Capitol Hill hasn’t done much to soothe tempers along the Gulf.

Lafource Parish President Charlotte Randolph accused Obama of using the area for political purposes.

“I think he has an agenda, and this is certainly working into his agenda,” Randolph said Thursday. “Right now, we are the poster children for alternative energy. He can point to us and say this is why we need to move on to alternative energy.”

Randolph was one of several Louisiana officials who gathered in Port Fouchon, Louisiana, to criticize the administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater offshore oil drilling.

“The other morning I heard he was looking for some butt to kick. What he doesn’t realize is that he is kicking our butts right now,” Randolph said. “We can recover from all the storms we have had in the past. We are managing the oil. We can’t overcome this overriding issue — this moratorium — now.”

The continuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is one in a long list of failures indicating that the oil and gas industry has failed to learn key safety lessons, a federal official testified Thursday.

“The oil and gas industry must learn from its mistakes,” testified Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Barab told the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety that investigators are finding a lack of compliance during inspections of refineries.

Incidents involving close calls, serious injuries and fatalities “are clear indication that essential safety lessons are not being learned,” he said.

The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, experts said Thursday, highlights flaws in the drilling industry’s main defense against oil and gas explosions: the blowout preventer, which is supposed to shut down an oil and gas well if something goes wrong.

Oil companies have treated such devices as virtually fail-safe.

“They’re certainly not fail-safe, because they didn’t close this well,” said petroleum engineering professor Paul Bommer of the University of Texas at Austin.

iReport: Share your views on the oil disaster

Failures of basic communication sparked the ire of Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who blasted federal officials Thursday for not alerting local authorities that oil from the Gulf disaster had entered Florida waters.

“The Coast Guard is doing a great job, but they are stretched to the limit,” Nelson said during a Senate hearing on the spill. “We are livid that the command and control is not there. … Communication is not coming to the state and local government.”

The drumbeat of hearings was too much for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who mocked Congress on Thursday for holding them before experts have figured out how to stop the undersea gusher.

“Figure out what the hell went wrong, and then have the hearing and get the damn law fixed,” Boehner said at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill.

Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, told a Senate subcommittee that he didn’t know where to direct his anger.

“I still don’t know who’s in charge,” he said. “Is it BP? Is it the Coast Guard? … I have spent more time fighting the officials of BP and the Coast Guard than fighting the oil.”

What is needed, he said, is someone “with the guts and the will to make decisions.”

Obama said Thursday that he had a “frank conversation” with congressional leaders about the fact that current federal laws are not adequate to deal with the disaster.

The White House and Congress agree on the need to update the laws to ensure that residents in the Gulf “are all made whole” and the government is in a “much better position” to respond to future environmental crises, he said.

Meanwhile, BP has pledged to speed its payments to businesses that have suffered losses in the disaster, an Obama administration official said Thursday.

If oil remains in the Gulf marshlands, it has the potential to affect more than 13 million migratory birds that will begin arriving in August, said Tom Moorman, who is heading up the disaster response for the conservation group Ducks Unlimited.

Pictures of oil-soaked birds and turtles have prompted a surge of offers of help from volunteers.

“Since the images have come out of wildlife in Louisiana, we definitely have had more volunteers willing to assist with wildlife,” said Anna Keene, programs director at the Alabama Coastal Foundation, a conservation group. “It hits them in the heart.”

Since the rig explosion, nearly 6,000 volunteers have been trained in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to help monitor beaches and prepare for oil coming ashore, according to Joan McCoy, a spokeswoman for the Joint Information Center in Mobile, Alabama.

The Audubon Society registered 5,000 new volunteers over the weekend of June 5, national field director Sean Saville said.

The Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service has registered more than 4,000 volunteers, according to spokeswoman Emily Wilemon.

Work continued Thursday on the effort to drill a relief well 16,000 to 18,000 feet below the seafloor, described as the only surefire way to stop the oil from spewing into the Gulf.

As of Thursday, BP said the drill for this relief well has reached a depth of 13,978 feet.

Workers acknowledged that the pace was slow but said it had to be done carefully.

“Part of the problem is that there is a lot of outside scrutiny on what it is that we’re doing out here,” Capt. Nick Schindler said aboard Development Driller III in the Gulf.

“The American population is wanting this well done. They want it now. We all want it done now. But we all have to understand that this is a well that killed 11 people … and sunk a rig. So we’re not going to speed up, and we’re going to do this as safe as possible.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *