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 Giant dome, fires aimed at huge oil spill

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PostSubject: Giant dome, fires aimed at huge oil spill   Giant dome, fires aimed at huge oil spill Icon_minitimeWed May 05, 2010 11:09 pm

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VENICE, Louisiana, May 5, 2010 (Reuters) — Workers toiled above and below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday in attempts to plug a gushing oil leak and protect the U.S. coast in one of the biggest spill containment efforts ever mounted.

Work was in high gear as politicians kept pressure on energy giant BP to limit the ecological and economic damage from its ruptured well, and as driller Transocean Ltd said the U.S. Justice Department asked it to preserve records related to the drilling of the well and the deadly blast on its rig.

BP began transporting a massive metal device designed to channel the flow of leaking oil from the seabed to a drilling ship on the surface.

The device will take about 12 hours to reach the leak site off the Louisiana coast. After installation, it could begin capturing the oil on Monday, BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said at a briefing.

The 98-ton structure is seen as the best short-term chance to stem the leak, but Suttles warned there was no guarantee it would work in water depth of nearly 1 mile.

Prevailing winds have kept the giant slick offshore, two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion triggered the breach, and it was barely moving.

"If you look at our trajectory for the next 72 hours, they don't show a whole lot of real movement from where it's at," said Charlie Henry, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The calm weather allowed for teams to conduct a series of "controlled burns" of the massive slick, the first such attempts since a 28-minute blaze on April 28 that removed thousands of gallons of fuel.

Controlled burns remove oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and wildlife. Wednesday's burns were targeted at areas with the heaviest concentration of oil, typically closer to the leak site and farther from shore.

Elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, crews deployed miles (km) of protective booms to block the slick and used dispersants to break up the thick oil before it fouls tourist beaches and fishing grounds, threatening an environmental catastrophe.

BP used remote-operated undersea vehicles to cap one of three leaks in the ruptured well but oil still flowed at an unchanged 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) a day.

Asked about a potential worst-case scenario if current measures and existing equipment fail, Suttles said the ruptured well could gush at a rate of 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons/9.5 million liters) a day.

BP has started drilling a relief well, but that could take two or three months to complete.


Crews on several hundred boats took advantage of a second day of calm seas to lay down containment booms and deploy dispersants, and thousands of military and civilian personnel participated in the operations.

In Venice, Louisiana, workers loaded lengths of boom onto a barge as part of a plan to protect a vast network of inshore estuaries and canals that form the Mississippi Delta.

"We will monitor the water quality from the barge and at the first sign of oil we will deploy (the boom) immediately," said Kurt Fromherz, spokesman for Plaquemines parish.

About 40 Army National Guard troops toiled on Dauphin Island, south of Mobile Bay, Alabama, readying a line of cubes, like giant sandbags, that will be filled with spill dispersant to protect the long barrier island should the slick float in.

Authorities were on alert for the first major landfall of the oil slick, estimated to be at least 130 miles by 70 miles in size, and scientists monitored the impact on marine and coastal wildlife in the region.

"The risks posed by the BP oil spill to the Gulf Coast's environment and economy continue to grow," said National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger.

"The oil we're seeing on the water's surface is only part of the problem. Much of it has been sunk by dispersants and suspended in the water column, posing a grave threat to fish and other marine life," he said.

BP shares rose on Wednesday. Bargain hunting has emerged from investors guessing that enough value -- more than $32 billion -- had been stripped from the company's market value.

Shares in London closed at 562.7 pence, up 1.1 percent. BP's American Depository Receipts rose 1.2 percent to $50.99.

Still, Moody's Investors Service cut its outlook on BP debt to negative, citing uncertainty over the costs related to the oil spill.


Transocean, operator of the rig that exploded, killing 11 workers, said U.S. congressional committees and subcommittees had asked it to attend hearings, and that the Department of Justice had requested it preserve information. It expects to incur "significant" legal expenses as a result of lawsuits.

Transocean also said it received $401 million as a partial insurance payment. Its New York-listed shares rose 2 cents to $72.76, after falling by a fifth since the blast.

The White House and U.S. lawmakers vowed to review a law limiting BP's liability for lost revenues from fishing and other business to $75 million and raise it to $10 billion.

Senior government officials kept up the pressure on BP.

"The president has been on top of what has been going on here on a daily basis," U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters during a visit to a wildlife refuge in Louisiana. "We are holding BP accountable for taking the actions it said it would take."

The leak, still weeks or months away from being stopped, threatens to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe in Alaska, the worst U.S. oil spill.

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily in New York and Tom Bergin in London; Anna Driver and Chris Baltimore in Houston; Tom Brown and Pascal Fletcher in Miami; Michael Peltier in Pensacola; Brian Snyder in Mobile, and Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Jeffrey Jones, John Whitesides and Ros Krasny; Editing by Peter Cooney

Giant dome, fires aimed at huge oil spill 2010-05-06T000604Z_01_BTRE64500AA00_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-OIL-RIG-LEAKWorkers set booms around the brown pelican colony at Breton Island, near the coast of Louisiana, May 5, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace/Handout

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