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Oil giants face second Congressional grilling as oil gushes into Gulf

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-05-12

Oil industry executives braced for a second day of grilling by angry US lawmakers Wednesday as thousands of gallons of oil continue to gush unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico in what could be the worse oil slick in US history.

Top oil executives face a second day of grilling by U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday over a deadly well rupture that unleashed a huge oil slick and the specter of environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP Plc, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co are all in the hot seat for their roles in what could be the worst oil spill in U.S. history. A desperate race is on to contain the catastrophe, with BP readying a potential subsea fix and troops and prisoners rushing to limit damage to the coast, where crude has started to reach shorelines.

BP tried in vain to stem the relentless leak with a 98-tonne dome over the weekend, and is now trying to cover the leak with a much smaller funnel.

With oil gushing unchecked from the sea floor at an estimated daily rate of least 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 litres), and the expanding slick oozing across the surface, Wednesday was shaping up to be another rough one for the oil industry and its soiled reputation.

Environmental disaster

Eleven workers were killed in the April 20 explosion that sank the rig. Fisheries and tourism, two of the Gulf's economic mainstays, and birds, sea turtles and other wildlife, are all threatened by the unfolding fiasco that could next month exceed the Titanic-sized Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.

Cathy Norman of the Edward Wisner Donation, a land trust that owns the property that makes up the Port of Fourchon, the principal supply harbor for the Gulf's deepwater oil and gas industry, said the area's shoreline already is "disappearing at an astronomical rate."

"The land is holding on by its fingernails. If oil gets in there and the plants all die off, we're going to have just all water," she said.

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo, who took reporters on a boat tour, said oil had already washed ashore at three locations: Dauphin Island, Alabama; the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana; and the South Pass-Port Eads area on a remote stretch of Louisiana's mainland.

The scheduled U.S. congressional hearings on the catastrophe could spawn new legislation on offshore drilling, an issue which has been thrust onto the crowded domestic agenda of President Barack Obama.

Harsh hearings

If Tuesday's hearings are anything to go by, Wednesday's congressional grilling is likely to be harsh.

In hearings before two Senate committees, lawmakers accused executives from BP America Inc, Transocean, and Halliburton of trying to shift the blame to each other, and subjected them to tough questions about safety and how the well was sealed.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, at one point interrupted BP America's president, saying, "The culture of this company has been one accident after another." BP had been trying to repair its image since a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery killed 15.

BP America chief Lamar McKay told a key Senate panel that the company would pay “all legitimate claims” of economic damages caused by the spill, possibly exceeding a 75-million-dollar legal cap usually implemented after natural disasters.

Investors have driven the value of BP shares down more than $30 billion, far exceeding even the worst estimates of the spill's cost, reflecting uncertainty about how the calamity will play out, with an unprecedented and shifting situation.

Date created : 2010-05-12

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