Damage from BP spill is less than feared FT.com / US & Canada –

Damage from BP spill is less than feared

By Anna Fifield in Washington

Published: August 4 2010 16:03 | Last updated: August 4 2010 17:04

About three-quarters of the oil spilled following the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has evaporated and the rest is being dispersed, the White House said on Wednesday, as it released a new report suggesting that the environmental damage would be nowhere near as severe as first feared.

The study, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, finds that about a quarter of the 4.9m barrels of oil spilled is still in the water but, whether on the surface or underneath, it appears to be rapidly breaking up.

“The vast majority of the oil has either been cleaned, skipped, contained,” Carol Browner, the White House’s top energy adviser, told ABC television on Wednesday morning.

“There will continue to be some tar balls, there may be some sheens. But it should be significantly less than we saw at the height, and we’ll continue to make sure that is cleaned up as quickly as possible,” she said.

With the report coinciding with the news that BP’s announcement that its “static kill” operation had appeared to stem the leak, President Barack Obama on Wednesday sounded his most upbeat note yet about the oil spill.

“The long battle to stop the leak and contain the oil is close to coming to an end,” the president said at a meeting of the AFL-CIO labor union.

But Mr Obama said his administration would continue to hold BP accountable and make sure it paid all damages relating to the spill.

Ms Browner said the report, combined with the static kill news, marked “an important turning point”.

“The fact that the oil is now being contained, that the cap is working, that the mud worked, that we can see the relief well coming into its final stages, and that the amount of oil that has already been collected – if you will, the vast majority of it’s been collected – I think this is encouraging news,” she said.

But there is some scepticism about the reliability of the report, given that NOAA vastly underestimated the size of the leak when it began.

Ms Browner said the report had been compiled by both government scientists and academics, adding that it was looking at all of the information.

“We’ll continue to get information. But we think it’s very encouraging that the vast majority of the oil was contained, was cleaned up,” she said. “Mother Nature did its part too.”

There has been some controversy over BP’s use of an unprecedented amount of chemical dispersants to help break up the leaking oil, with the Environmental Protection Agency ordering the company in the first few weeks of the spill to stop dousing the Gulf with the chemicals.

Administration officials have stressed that, while the effect of such large quantities of dispersants was not yet known, it was generally accepted that the chemicals were less toxic than the oil.

Ms Browner suggested that the chemicals, which break up the oil into small globs that can be eaten by microbes, had been helpful in mitigating the spill. But agencies would continue to study their effect, she said.

FT.com / US & Canada – Damage from BP spill is less than feared

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