New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) July 8, 2010
US officials Thursday gave BP 24 hours to outline its next steps in the fight to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, saying efforts to cap a fractured well were entering a "critical stage."
After days of high winds hampered BP's bid to stop the leak, forecasters are predicting seven to eight days of good weather, and the US administration is keen to press ahead before hurricane season truly gets underway.
The US pointman in the crisis, Thad Allen, wrote to BP managing director Bob Dudley saying that after talks to be held in Houston on Friday the British energy giant must hand over "detailed plans and timelines."
BP is preparing to replace the containment cap on the ruptured wellhead with a more secure seal and hook up a third containment ship to the system in a bid to capture most, if not all, of the oil leaking into the Gulf.
"The sea is calming, which gives us the window in what... we now understand as an extremely active tropical storm and hurricane season," a senior US official told journalists.
Fixing a new cap on the ruptured pipe would also give engineers greater flexibility if they have to move the containment ships quickly because of an approaching storm, another official said.
But before the administration gives BP permission to go ahead, it wants detailed timetables for the steps ahead and contingency plans in case things go wrong.
"To approve these potential actions, I must have knowledge of the steps and decision points involved," Coast Guard Admiral Allen wrote, highlighting that while the measures were being carried out, the amount of oil pouring into the Gulf could increase.
Dudley said earlier Thursday BP was hoping to cap the gushing well ahead of schedule, even as early as July 27, when the troubled energy giant reports second-quarter earnings.
It is the first time the British energy giant has set a fixed date for ending the disaster, and is ahead of a mid-August time frame outlined by the US government for completing two relief wells to permanently cap the leak.
But Allen and other US officials remained cautious about the date, stung by a string of botched efforts to contain the massive oil spill now in its 11th week.
If the relief wells can be completed ahead of schedule "we can all jump for joy," he said, but adding the government's mid-August target was more of a "realistic expectation."
Dudley did concede in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the company's "perfect case," threatened by the Atlantic hurricane season that usually heralds rough weather in the Gulf, was "unlikely."
Allen said meanwhile that all the leaking oil would be contained this month if the new cap and a connection to the other processing ship, called the Helix Producer, is put in place.
The new moves by BP would boost the amount of captured oil more than three-fold, to "60,000 to 80,000 barrels a day."
A new depression was churning Thursday in the Gulf, and although it was not expected to grow into a major hurricane, tropical storm warnings were issued for the Texas and Mexican coastlines. Allen, however, said it appeared the response team has "the sea state we need" for deploying the Helix.
US officials had previously said the ship, still two to three days away from being connected to the containment system, would more than double the amount of oil that can be siphoned up to 53,000 barrels per day (bpd).
If the 80,000 bpd figure is achieved, the production capacity would exceed the current 35,000 to 60,000 barrels estimated to have been spewing into the sea every day since the catastrophic April explosion destroyed the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
The British oil giant is also mulling a US demand for advance warning of any big financial deals that could affect its ability to pay for the spill.
In addition to requesting 30 days advance warning of any asset transfers or merger plans, US officials requested monthly financial statements, copies of credit and loan agreements, and any reports evaluating its financial state.
Leaking crude has now washed up on the shores of all five Gulf states, and tar balls from the spill have even entered the vast Lake Pontchartrain, bordering New Orleans.
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Nigeria faces specter of new oil violence
Abuja, Nigeria (UPI) Jul 8, 2010
Recent attacks on two cargo ships off Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta and a resurgence of kidnappings has stirred fears the oil industry in the south faces a renewed insurgency that has slashed production by one-third. But the country's new president, Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner himself, is making a determined effort to head off a new explosion of violence in the oil fields at a time ... read more
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