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JONES ACT AND GULF SPILL
Is the Jones Act slowing Gulf Spill clean-up efforts?

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August 4, 2010

Good news on Gulf Spill

At last there's some good news on the Gulf oil spill.

BP reports that its static kill procedure has succeeded. Government scientists are saying that the vast majority of the oil from the spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed. And yesterday BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich was telling reporters that the administration hopes to be able to end its moratorium on deepwater drilling "well before" November 30, when it is currently set to expire.

Let's look at these developments in turn.

THE KILL

BP announced today that the MC252 well appears to have reached a static condition -- a significant milestone. The well pressure is now being controlled by the hydrostatic pressure of the drilling mud, which is the desired outcome of the static kill procedure carried out yesterday.

Pumping of heavy drilling mud into the well from vessels on the surface began at 1500 CDT (2100 BST) on August 3, 2010 and was stopped after about eight hours of pumping. The well is now being monitored, to ensure it remains static. Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed during monitoring.

The start of the static kill was based on the results of an injectivity test, which immediately preceded the static kill and lasted about two hours.

BP says it will continue to work with the National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen and other government officials to determine the next course of action, which involves assessing whether to inject cement in the well via the same route.

Yesterday, Admiral Allen was pretty clear about what he expects to happen.

"The static kill will increase the probability that the relief well will work," he said. "But the whole thing will not be done until the relief well is completed. The static kill is not the end all be all. It is a diagnostic test that will tell us a lot about the integrity of the casing and the wellbore. It will tell us about the tolerance for volume and pressure. But in the long run, drilling into the annulus and into the casing pipe from below, filling that with mud and then filling that with cement is the only solution to the end of this.

"And there should be no ambiguity about that. I'm the National Incident Commander, and that's the way this will end...with the relief wells being drilled, and the annulus and the casing being filled with mud, and cement being poured."

WHERE DID THE OIL GO?

The Administration says that one third (33 percent) of the total amount of oil released in the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill was captured or mitigated by the Unified Command recovery operations, including burning, skimming, chemical dispersion and direct recovery from the wellhead.

An additional 25 percent of the total oil naturally evaporated or dissolved, and 16 percent was dispersed naturally into microscopic droplets. The residual amount, just over one quarter (26 percent), is either on or just below the surface as residue and weathered tarballs, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments. Dispersed and residual oil remain in the system until they degrade through a number of natural processes. Early indications are that the oil is degrading quickly.

These estimates were derived by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI), who jointly developed what's known as an Oil Budget Calculator, to provide measurements and best estimates of what happened to the spilled oil. The calculator is based on 4.9 million barrels of oil released into the Gulf, the total estimated by the government's Flow Rate Technical Group.

The estimates do not make conclusions about the long-term impacts of oil on the Gulf. Fully understanding the damages and impacts of the spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem is something that will take time and continued monitoring and research.

Dispersion increases the likelihood that the oil will be biodegraded, both in the water column and at the surface. While there is more analysis to be done to quantify the rate of biodegradation in the Gulf, early observations and preliminary research results from a number of scientists show that the oil from the spill is biodegrading quickly. Scientists from NOAA, EPA, DOE, and academic scientists are working to calculate more precise estimates of this rate.

It is well known that bacteria that break down the dispersed and weathered surface oil are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico in large part because of the warm water, the favorable nutrient and oxygen levels, and the fact that oil enters the Gulf of Mexico through natural seeps regularly.

Residual oil is also degraded and weathered by a number of physical and biological processes. Microbes consume the oil, and wave action, sun, currents and continued evaporation and dissolution continue to break down the residual oil in the water and on shorelines.

WHEN WILL THE MORATORIUM END?

Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, today told reporters in Washington, D.C. that the administration hopes to be able to its moratorium on deepwater drilling "well before" November 30, when it is currently set to expire.

Mr. Bromwich said any recommendations he makes on will depend on what he learns from a series of public hearings he is holding over the next few weeks.

"It is everybody's hope we'll feel comfortable enough that the moratorium can be lifted significantly in advance of Nov. 30," he is reported as saying.

Mr. Bromwich denied that there is a de facto moratorium on shallow-water drilling. Interior Department records show that the agency has approved two new shallow-water wells since new safety rules were recently issued.

"I've heard no one in this department whisper or say that we should slow-walk these or that we should not approve these," Bromwich is quoted as saying. "People are very concerned about the misperception that we think exists out there that there is a de facto shallow-water moratorium."

John Rynd, Chief Executive Office and President of Hercules Offshore, offered the following comment: "We appreciate the attention the Interior Department has paid to resolving lingering compliance questions. However, whether there is an actual moratorium for shallow-water drilling is almost beside the point. The facts speak for themselves. By the end of July, 27 jack-up rigs have been idled or stacked, representing over half of the total available fleet. By the end of August, 37 will be idle representing 74% of the fleet."

But Seahawk Drilling, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Randy Stilley said that though new drilling permit requirements have caused delays for permit approvals, he is "optimistic that the BOEM will be able to more quickly process the backlog of drilling permit applications so that current applications will be reviewed and approved allowing us to put our idle rigs back to work, as well as enter into new contracts for our rigs that are currently working and keep our personnel employed."

Meanwhile Mr. Bromwich was in New Orleans today to kick off a series of forums that "are designed to collect information and views about deepwater drilling safety reforms, well containment, and oil spill response, which Director Bromwich will consider in evaluating whether to recommend any modifications to the scope or duration of the deepwater drilling suspensions announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on July 12, 2010."

The forums have a website that provides an option for the submission of written comments. You can access it HERE


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