COVINGTON, La. – The “Top Kill” solution hit a snag today when a BP technician told the New York Times that the “engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid they were injecting into the well had escaped along with the leaking crude oil”. The technician went on to explain that pumping had to be halted while crew reviewed plans. “We’re still quite optimistic,” he told the New York Times, but cautioned: “It is not assured and its not a done deal yet. All of this will require some time.”
Elsewhere today government scientists said that possibly more than double the oil had spilled than in the Exxon Valdez disaster, making this BP spill the largest in U.S. history. On the heals of this dire announcement, two administration sources said that Elizabeth Birnbaum, the head of the Minerals Management Service, has been fired.
The decision to dismiss Birnbaum followed a recently released report highlighting what many observers have characterized as widespread corruption at the Interior Department agency that has oversight of the oil industry.
Two teams of scientists calculated the well has been spewing between 504,000 and more than a million gallons a day. Even using the most conservative estimate, that means nearly 18 million gallons have spilled so far. In the worst-case scenario, 39 million gallons have leaked.
That larger figure would be nearly four times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster, in which a tanker ran aground in Alaska in 1989, spilling nearly 11 million gallons.
Speaking at the White House, President Obama vowed to hold BP accountable for the “horrific disaster”.
He stressed that his administration, and not oil company BP, was in charge. But he admitted the government did not have the technology to deal with the damaged oil well nearly a mile below the surface, meaning that Washington must rely on BP to plug the ruptured well.
Obama’s press conference was both lengthy in coverage and wide in scope with major new restrictions on drilling projects, and the head of the federal agency that regulates the industry resigned under pressure, becoming the highest-ranking political casualty of the crisis so far. In a shake-up of the offshore oil industry, Mr Obama suspended test drilling on 33 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as halting exploratory deep water drilling for another six months. In addition, he canceled the sale of some offshore leases off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia.