Archive for June 1st, 2010

01
Jun
10

Obama Pledges Criminal Inquiry Into Gulf Oil Spill

NEWS
Obama Pledges Criminal Inquiry Into Gulf Oil Spill

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Promising ‘justice’ for victims of the Gulf Coast disaster, the president moves forward with an investigative panel. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s visit to the region raises the possibility of criminal charges.

U.S. President Barack Obama has held his first meeting with the leaders of an independent commission investigating the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and he says the panel will examine the disaster and its causes thoroughly to ensure that the United States never faces such a catastrophe again.

Obama spoke in the Rose Garden after the meeting and pledged that necessary changes will be made.

The president says that if laws are insufficient, they will be changed. He says that if government oversight was not tough enough, that will change, too. And Obama said if laws were broken, those who were responsible will be brought to justice.

Obama says the leaders of the commission have his support to follow the facts wherever they lead.

Good morning, everybody. I just met with these gentlemen, former Senator Bob Graham of Florida and former EPA Administrator, Bill Reilly. They will lead the National Commission on the BP oil spill in the Gulf, which is now the greatest environmental disaster of its kind in our history. Their job, along with the other members of the commission, will be to thoroughly examine the spill and its causes, so that we never face such a catastrophe again.At the same time, we’re continuing our efforts on all fronts to contain the damage from this disaster and extend to the people of the Gulf the help they need to confront this ordeal. We’ve already mounted the largest cleanup effort in the nation’s history, and continue to monitor – minute to minute – the efforts to halt or capture the flow of oil from the wrecked BP well. Until the well is stopped, we’ll multiply our efforts to meet the growing threat and to address the widespread and unbelievably painful losses experienced by the people along the Gulf Coast. What’s being threatened – what’s being lost – isn’t just the source of income, but a way of life; not just fishable waters, but a national treasure.

vThere are now more than 20,000 men and women in the region working around the clock to contain and clean up the oil. We’ve authorized more than 17,000 National Guard members to respond across four states. More than 1,700 vessels are currently aiding in the response. And we’ll ensure that any and all responsible means of containing this leak are pursued as we await the completion of the two relief wells. I’ve also directed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Admiral Thad Allen, who is the National Incident Commander, to triple the manpower in those places where oil has hit shore or is within 24 hours of impact.

The economic response continues as well. We’ve ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and we will make sure they deliver. The Small Business Administration has stepped in to help businesses by approving loans and allowing deferrals of existing loan payments. We’ve stationed doctors and scientists across the region to look out for people’s health and monitor any ill effects felt by cleanup workers and residents. And we will absolutely continue to hold BP and any other responsible parties accountable for financial losses borne by the people in the region.

But our responsibility doesn’t end there. We have an obligation to investigate what went wrong and to determine what reforms are needed so that we never have to experience a crisis like this again. If the laws on our books are insufficient to prevent such a spill, the laws must change. If oversight was inadequate to enforce these laws, oversight has to be reformed. If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of this catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region.

When Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took office, for example, he found a Minerals and Management Services agency that had been plagued by corruption for years – corruption that was underscored by a recent Inspector General’s report that uncovered appalling activity that took place before last year. Secretary Salazar immediately took steps to clean up that corruption. But this oil spill has made clear that more reforms are needed. For years, there’s been a far too cozy relationship between oil companies and the agencies that regulate them. That’s why we’ve decided to separate the people who permit offshore leases, who collect revenues, and who regulate the safety of drilling.

In addition, we’ve placed a six-month moratorium on drilling new deepwater oil and gas wells in the Outer Continental Shelf. And now that a 30-day safety and environmental review is complete, we’re making a series of changes. The review recommended aggressive new operating standards and requirements for offshore energy companies, which we will put in place. And I’ve also called on Congress to pass a bill to provide critical resources to respond to this spill and better prepare us for any spills in the future.

Now, all that has to do with dealing with the crisis at hand. But it’s critical that we take a comprehensive look at how the oil and gas industry operates and how our government oversees those operations. That’s why I signed an executive order establishing this national commission. And I’m extraordinarily pleased that Bob Graham and Bill Reilly have agreed to be its co-chairs.

Bob served two terms as Florida’s governor, represented Florida in the Senate for almost two decades. And during that time he earned a reputation as a champion of the environment, leading the most extensive environmental protection effort in the state’s history. Bill is chairman emeritus of the board of the World Wildlife Fund, and is also deeply knowledgeable of the oil and gas industry. He also was EPA Administrator during the first Bush administration, serving during the Exxon Valdez disaster.

So I can’t think of two people who will bring greater experience or judgment to this task. I personally want to thank both of them for taking on this arduous assignment – for demonstrating a great sense of duty to this country.

Very soon I’ll appoint five other distinguished Americans, including leaders in science and engineering, to join them. And they’ll work alongside other ongoing reviews, including an independent examination by the National Academy of Engineers. And I’ve authorized the commission to hold public hearings and to request information from government, from non-for-profit organizations, and from experts in the oil and gas industry both at home and abroad, as well as from relevant companies – including BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and others.

I just said in our meeting: In doing this work, they have my full support to follow the facts wherever they may lead – without fear or favor. And I’m directing them to report back in six months with options for how we can prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills that result from offshore drilling.

As a result of this disaster, lives have been lost. Businesses have been decimated. Communities that had already known great hardship now face the specter of sudden and painful economic dislocations. Untold damage is being done to the environment – damage that could last for decades. We owe all those who’ve been harmed, as well as future generations, a full and vigorous accounting of the events that led to what has now become the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Only then can we be assured that deepwater drilling can take place safely. Only then can we accept further development of these resources as we transition to a clean energy economy. Only then can we be confident that we’ve done what’s necessary to prevent history from repeating itself.

Thank you very much, everybody.

• Source(s): The White House
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01
Jun
10

Tornadoes hit SE Colorado; no injuries reported

NEWS
Tornadoes hit SE Colorado; no injuries reported

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Earth

••• Another round of severe thunderstorms in Southeastern Colorado spawned at least four tornadoes Monday in Baca County.

There were no reported injuries.

Emergency officials reported the tornadoes knocked down telephone poles in open country and that hail with the storms broke out windows in homes and cars.

Emergency sirens sounded in several of the county’s small communities.

The National Weather Service reported the first tornado touched down at about 01:57 p.m. near Pritchett.

At 06:32 p.m. Doppler radar was tracking another tornado about nine miles southeast of Campo.

Stan Rose, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the second storm crossed into the Oklahoma Panhandle close to 07:000 p.m.

Rose said there were reports of tennis ball-sized hail in these storms.

“The tornadoes were over fairly rural areas,” Rose said.

Baca County officials reported two other tornadoes but they were not confirmed by the weather service.

The sheriff’s office reported telephone poles being knocked down along county roads C and 33. There also were reports of power lines and antennas down in Campo.
Riley Frazee, emergency management director for Baca County, said Campo residents were lucky the tornado did not touch down there.

“The rotation (of the storm) went directly over Campo. They got a lot of hail,” Frazee said.

Frazee said an old wooden shed attached to a cement foundation was lifted, moved about 30 feet and set on its top on County Road C about 3 miles east of U.S. 287.

“Campo cut it real close. We were there watching the clouds and right above the town there was huge rotation. The funnel cloud started to come down, but moved east,” Frazee said.

“The tornadoes that we usually see are kind of the thinner rope tornadoes, but these were the big ones,” he said.

Frazee said the tornado near Pritchett was about two miles wide as it swirled on its base.

“They were huge today. It was a good day for weather spotting,” Frazee said.

The latest round of storms came less than one week since Southeastern Colorado was hit with several other severe storms.

On May 25, the weather service reported a tornado touched down in Baca County causing minor damage.

On the same day, the weather service reported 11 small tornadoes touched down over open country between Sheridan Lake and Towner in Kiowa County.

There were no injuries or major damages reported in any of those storms.

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01
Jun
10

BP’s latest plan to plug leak hits shares

NEWS
BP’s latest plan to plug leak hits shares

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Earth

••• BP officials have warned they may not be able to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil leak until August, as Louisiana residents warned the spill could wipe out dozens of fish species.

Drilling relief wells is still seen as the best solution, but they will not be completed for at least eight weeks, BP spokesman John Currie said on Monday, as U.S. officials warned the spill is now the worst environmental disaster to ever hit the United States.

BP engineers are scrambling to prepare their next bid to stop the oil from gushing into the sea, using robotic submarines to cut off a burst pipe and then capping it and siphoning the oil up to surface vessels.

Although local media said the ‘cut and cap’ procedure was under way, Currie said the effort was unlikely to begin before Wednesday.

U.S. officials and residents remained frustrated over the lack of progress.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was on his eighth trip to the Gulf region and ’emphasised the need to find an immediate, short-term solution to contain the leaking oil,’ according to a statement from the joint command centre.

‘U.S. government scientists, engineers and experts have been working with independent experts and BP officials on a variety of alternatives to contain the flow of oil immediately.’
At least 20 million gallons of oil are feared to have already flooded into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20 killing 11 people and sank into the sea two days later.

More areas of Louisiana reported oil washed ashore Monday, extending the scope of the disaster.

U.S. officials Monday expanded a fishing ban in the Gulf of Mexico by more than 2,600 square kilometres amid a spreading oil slick.

Some 160,200 square kilometres of Gulf of Mexico waters are now closed to fishing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. That area is close to the size of Tunisia, according to an AFP calculation.

BP’s last attempt to stop the leak, dubbed ‘top kill,’ failed on Saturday, leaving an estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil belching into the Gulf every day.

The still-growing slick is threatening Louisiana’s fragile wetlands, as well as the Gulf region’s fishing and tourism industries.

With hurricane season starting on Tuesday, residents fear oil could be pushed up onto the Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama coastlines when storms roll through the area.

Former shrimper turned tugboat captain Kevin ‘Godzilla’ Curole told AFP, ‘This is going to kill more species of fish than BP even knows exist, and it will kill our whole way of life.

‘People used to come here to fish. But now they’re going to come here to look at a memorial to what is going to be an extinct way of life and tell their kids: ‘See? Those are fishermen. They’re the people who built this town and southern Louisiana,” he said at his home in this fishing town on Lafourche Bayou.
Two separate studies, by Louisiana State University and the University of Florida, have found large plumes of oil hanging underneath the water.

‘These plumes will make it very difficult for fish to survive in the northern margins of the Gulf. We may very well lose dozens of vulnerable fish species,’ Prosanta Chakrabarty, a fish scientist at Louisiana State University, told AFP.

The pancake batfish, a species that Chakrabarty discovered six months ago and was due to introduce to the world in August in a report in a scientific journal, was among the species under threat.

‘Unfortunately, by August the oil spill will have leaked scores of millions of gallons of oil into their habitat, as well as a million gallons of toxic dispersant,’ he said, fearing the batfish might not live long enough to be formally recognised as a species.

Meanwhile, BP warned that fraudsters saying they were employees of the British oil company were taking advantage of the economic plight brought on by the spill and ‘offering applicants training and promising job placement for a fee.

‘This is a scam. BP does not charge to train and hire applicants,’ said Neil Chapman, a spokesman for the oil company.

Thousands of fishermen have been forced by the spill to leave their boats in port during peak fishing season, as state officials shut down prime fishing grounds.

Currie said BP has been paying up to $3,000 a day to out-of-work fishermen and others who are able to prove they have been impacted by the crisis.

But on Monday, staff at a restaurant in Galliano told AFP their claims for compensation had been rejected because, although their hours have been cut since the crisis broke, they had recently been given a pay rise.

Other angry Louisiana residents slammed BP’s efforts to stop the leak as being just a well-managed show.

‘It’s all just smoke and mirrors,’ New Orleans resident Danielle Brutsche told AFP.
Representative Edward J. Markey is questioning BP’s claim that the oil company has not found evidence of underwater oil plumes. Scientists have reported plumes as long as 22 miles.

The Massachusetts Democrat said BP in this instance means “Blind to Plumes.’’ He sent a letter to chief executive Tony Hayward yesterday asking for documents to back up BP’s claims.

Markey, chairman of a House Energy and Commerce Committee environmental panel, said it is vital that the government and researchers have unfettered access to all relevant data or analysis concerning underwater plumes. He also called on BP to offer “complete transparency’’ on its video feeds from the company’s underwater operations, calling any delay or other obstacle unacceptable.
• Source(s): BP PLC, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Agence France-Presse (AFP)
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01
Jun
10

Solution to Gulf oil leak may be months away

NEWS
Solution to Gulf oil leak may be months away

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Earth

••• With BP making yet another attempt to stem the flow from a blown-out Gulf of Mexico oil well – this time only to contain the leak, not stop it – signs point to August before any real end is in sight. On top of that, hurricane season begins Tuesday.

Responding to suggestions that the military should take the lead in responding to the spill, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said on Monday the oil industry is better-equipped to deal with the disaster.

Military officials have looked at what they have available but ‘the best technology in the world, with respect to that, exists in the oil industry’, Mullen said on ABC television.

Mullen also said a decision on the military leading the response would come from the president.

The spill is already the worst in U.S. history – worse, even, than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. It has released between 20 million and 43 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, according to government estimates. The spill is the aftermath of a BP-operated drilling rig explosion on April 20 that killed 11 workers.

‘This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we’ve ever faced in this country,’ White House Energy and Climate Change Advisor Carol Browner said on NBC television on Sunday.

Using government figures, if the leak continues at its current pace and is stopped on August 1, 51 million to 106 million gallons will have spilled.
BP’s new plan carries the risk of making the torrent worse, top government officials warned on Sunday.

The British oil giant’s next containment effort involves an assortment of undersea robot manoeuvres that would redirect the oil up and out of the water it is poisoning.

The first step is the intricate removal of a damaged riser that brought oil to the surface of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The riser will be cut at the top of the crippled blowout preventer, creating a flat surface that a new containment valve can seal against.

The valve would force the oil into a new pipe that would bring it up to a ship. The seal, however, would not prevent all oil from escaping. Browner said the effort could result in a temporary 20 percent increase in the flow. BP has said it didn’t expect a significant increase in flow from the cutting and capping plan.

If the containment valve fails, BP may try installing a new blowout preventer on top of the existing one.

In the end, however, a relief well would ease the pressure on the runaway gusher in favour of a controlled pumping – essentially what the Deepwater Horizon was trying to do in the first place. But that will take at least two months.
As the oil washes ashore, crude-coated birds have become a frequent sight. At the sea’s bottom, no one knows what the oil will do to species like the newly discovered bottom-dwelling pancake batfish – and others that remain unknown but just as threatened.

Scientists from several universities have reported large underwater plumes of oil stretching for miles and reaching hundreds of feet beneath the Gulf’s surface, though BP chief executive Tony Hayward disputed their findings, saying the company’s tests found no such evidence of oily clouds underwater.

‘The oil is on the surface,’ Hayward said. ‘Oil has a specific gravity that’s about half that of water. It wants to get to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity.’

One researcher said their findings were bolstered by the fact that scientists from different institutions reached similar conclusions with separate tests.

‘There’s been enough evidence from enough different sources,’ said marine scientist James Cowan of Louisiana State University, who reported finding a plume last week about 80km from the spill site. Cowan said oil reached to depths of at least 0.07 mile.

Perhaps most alarming of all, 40 days after the Deepwater Horizon blew up and began the underwater deluge, hurricane season is at hand. It brings the horrifying possibility of wind-whipped, oil-soaked waves and water spinning ashore and coating areas much farther inland.
• Source(s): BP PLC
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01
Jun
10

Tropical Storm Agatha kills 150 in Central America

NEWS
Tropical Storm Agatha kills 150 in Central America

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Earth

••• Flooding and landslides from the season’s first tropical storm have killed at least 150 people in Central America, officials said on Monday.

Dozens are still missing, thousands have lost homes and emergency crews are struggling to reach isolated communities cut off by washed-out roads and collapsed bridges caused by Tropical Storm Agatha.

The sun emerged on Monday in hardest-hit Guatemala, where official counts reported 123 dead and 90 missing. In the department or province of Chimaltenango – a province west of Guatemala City – landslides buried dozens of rural Indian communities and killed at least 60 people, Governor Erick de Leon said.

‘The department has collapsed,’ de Leon said. ‘There are a lot of dead people. The roads are blocked. The shelters are overflowing. We need water, food, clothes, blankets – but above all, money.’

President Alvaro Colom said on Sunday that during a single 12-hour period, 4.25 inches fell in Guatemala City’s valley. In all about 110,000 people were evacuated in the country.

Thousands more have fled their homes in neighboring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 14 even as meteorologists predicted three more days of rain.

Two dams near the capital of Tegucigalpa overflowed into a nearby river, and officials warned people to stay away from swollen waterways.

‘The risk is enormous,’ Mayor Ricardo Alvarez said.

In El Salvador, at least 140 landslides have been reported and 11,000 people were evacuated. The death toll was nine, President Mauricio Funes said.

Officials warned that the Acelhuate River, which cuts through San Salvador, was running at dangerously high levels and threatened to spill over into the capital’s streets.

Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on Saturday as a tropical storm with winds up to 45 mph (75 kph). It dissipated the following day over the mountains of western Guatemala.

The rising death toll is reminding nervous residents of Hurricane Mitch, which hovered over Central America for days in 1998, causing flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8000 missing and unaccounted for.

Rescue efforts in Guatemala have been complicated by a volcanic eruption on Thursday near the capital that blanketed parts of the area with ash and closed the country’s main airport. Officials are now allowing helicopters and propeller planes to take off, but commercial flights remain grounded.
• Source(s): NOAA / National Weather Service (NWS)
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01
Jun
10

Apple shifts two million iPads in less than two months

NEWS
Apple shifts two million iPads in less than two months

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sales of the Apple iPad have passed two million since its launch almost two months ago.

The Cupertino, California, company began selling the iPad last Friday in Asia, Australia and Europe. The iPad was released in the United States on April 3.

The company does not publicly break out sales figures by region, according to Natalie Harrison, an Apple spokeswoman.

The company previously had said it sold one million iPads in the United States just 28 days after its launch. As a result of the strong demand at home, Apple had pushed back the start date of its international sales.
The iPad can be used to send emails, draw pictures and play games. It can also be used as an electronic reader. The basic model costs $499 in the United States, not including extras.

This past weekend, Apple began selling iPads in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Prices for the cheapest, WiFi-only version range from $499 in the United States to the equivalent of $620 in Britain for the entry-level 16 GB model. Canada ($520), Japan ($536) and Australia ($533) rounded out the price basement countries.

At the top end, an iPad 64 GB model with WiFi and 3G connectivity cost $829 in the United States against $1,010 in Britain and $980 in Germany, France and Italy.

The company said the device will be available in nine more countries in July and additional countries later this year.
• Source(s): Apple Inc.
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