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US government launches new website on Gulf oil spill

Europe should freeze deep water drilling: top official
Strasbourg (AFP) July 7, 2010 - Europe should freeze new deep water drilling until the causes of the rig explosion which triggered the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are known, a top EU official said Wednesday. EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said governments need to make sure that the energy industry launches all possible measures to boost safety and enhance disaster prevention. "Utmost caution must be exercised for the moment with respect to new drillings," Oettinger said, according to prepared remarks he was to deliver to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"Given the current circumstances, any responsible Government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions," he said. "This can mean de facto a moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon." Leased by British energy giant BP, the Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers, unleashing the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Oettinger will meet in Brussels on July 14 with the national regulatory authorities of the 27 EU states and the heads of 18 oil companies. He already met in May with the main firms active in EU waters -- BP, ConocoPhilips, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Statoil and Total -- to discuss how to prevent a catastrophe like the one that befell the Gulf of Mexico. Oettinger said the "division of labour" between Brussels and governments was "no longer good enough." He said Brussels could be given the power to supervise the national regulators overseeing the oil and gas industry, therefore establishing a system to "control the controllers."

"We must increase transparency about the safety performance of the industry and the vigilance of public authorities supervising the industry," he said. The EU established in 1994 security standards that companies need to respect to prevent the risk of explosions in industrial installations, including oil platforms. But each state is in charge of controlling the industry. Oettinger said Brussels is looking into strengthening its disaster response capacity through the European Commission's Monitoring and Information Center. European officials will also look into expanding the competences of the European Maritime Safety Agency EMSA in Lisbon, which are currently limited to oil tankers, to include offshore platforms, he said. The European Commission will come up with "concrete proposals" in the next few months, he said.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) July 7, 2010
The US government Wednesday launched a new website to give information on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, moving away from the portal jointly run with oil giant BP.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top government official handling the spill, said the site was "designed to serve as a one-stop repository for news, data and operational updates related to administration-wide efforts to stop the BP oil leak."

The website aims to provide "even greater transparency and openness about the BP oil spill, our historic response, the tools available to assist Gulf Coast communities, and plans for the region's long-term recovery and restoration," Allen said in a statement.

Critics had accused the former site -- which came online in the early days following the BP-leased oil rig's sinking in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22 -- of sending mixed messages.

Operated by both BP and the federal government, the site was singled out for failing at transparency notably when debate raged over the flow rate of oil gushing into the Gulf.

At times, the oil giant's figures were uncritically cited on the website, even when government officials publicly questioned BP's account of the oil spill's size.

Officials said the new portal links to government news releases and allows more streamlined access to people filing claims on losses due to the spill.

Users can also view current operations, data maps and ways to volunteer for the clean-up effort, Allen said.

"We are committed to providing the American people access to complete and accurate information about our response to the BP oil spill and the resources available to assist those directly impacted," he added.

Latest US estimates suggest up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day are leaking from the ruptured well, which is not expected to be permanently capped until the first of two relief wells is completed, allowing mud and cement to be injected into the leak.

earlier related report
Gulf oil spill progress hampered by bad weather
New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) July 7, 2010 - High seas in the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday scuppered immediate hopes of deploying a third ship that could see almost all the leaking crude contained.

The Helix Producer processing vessel would more than double the amount of oil that can be siphoned up from a "top hat" funnel a mile down on the sea floor to 53,000 barrels a day, officials say.

The latest estimate for the amount of oil leaking from the wreck of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig is between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day. The system currently hoovers up roughly 25,000 barrels of oil and water mix a day.

"We hope over the next 48 hours the sea state will die down and allow that hook up to take place," said Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top government disaster official.

Allen said it would take at least another three days for the big sea swells to subside and allow crews to rig up the Helix Producer.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs concurred, saying no hook-up until Friday was likely, "given the weather and the size of the seas, the waves."

The stormy weather also delayed plans to deploy a Taiwanese mega-skimmer, A Whale, which could dramatically increase the amount of spilled crude that clean-up crews can scoop from the ocean surface.

The skimmer, a re-fitted supertanker, must undergo "proof of concept" testing before it can be deployed and the high waves have so far prevented crews from completing the tests.

The ship is believed to be able to suck up to 500,000 barrels (21 million gallons) of oily water a day.

By comparison, more than 500 smaller vessels in 10 weeks only managed to collect some 680,950 barrels, or 28.6 million gallons, of oil-water mix between them.

A final solution to the oil spill, arguably the biggest ever and certainly America's worst environmental disaster, is not expected until mid-August at the earliest when engineers hope to have completed the drilling of relief well.

The US government launched Wednesday its new face to the spill, moving away from the website it had jointly run with BP.

The site,, was intended to serve "as a one-stop repository for news, data and operational updates" related to the response effort, Allen said in announcing the move.

Leaking crude has now washed up on the shores of all five US states in the Gulf of Mexico, and tar balls from the spill have even entered the vast Lake Pontchartrain, bordering New Orleans.

Some 779 kilometers (484 miles) of shoreline has been oiled and closed fishing grounds and tourist cancellations threaten financial ruin for residents furious over BP's failure to cap the spill.

The energy giant had forked out 3.12 billion dollars in spill-related costs by last weekend and has promised to pay another 20 billion into an escrow fund to compensate Americans affected by the spill.

Fears that BP will buckle under the weight of compensation, penalty and clean-up costs have sparked rumors that the firm might issue new stock or seek new shareholders.

The company denied the claims Tuesday, but The Times newspaper in London reported that officials at Britain's Department of Business and the Treasury were still considering contingencies in case BP collapsed.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward was in oil-rich Abu Dhabi on Wednesday amid reports the British giant was seeking sovereign wealth fund support.

BP officials declined to give details of Hayward's visit to the United Arab Emirates capital but said he had been engaged in a series of meetings.

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Rome (AFP) July 7, 2010
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