BP CEO gets a bit of his life back
NEW ORLEANS — BP's chairman said Friday that CEO Tony Hayward is on his way out as the company's point man on the gulf oil spill crisis, a day after Hayward enraged members of Congress by offering few answers about how the environmental disaster happened. It was unclear when the switch will occur.
BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told Britain's Sky News television on Friday that Hayward "is now handing over the operations, the daily operations to (BP managing director) Bob Dudley." BP had said this month that Dudley would take over the long-term response to the spill once the leak was stopped, but millions of gallons continue to spew and that milestone remains months away.
Svanberg's statement sowed confusion, with other BP officials saying Hayward remains in charge. Spokesman Toby Odone said, "Nothing has changed" since the earlier announcement regarding Dudley, and spokesman Tristan Vanhegan said the "board still has confidence in Tony."
Hayward shocked residents in slick-hit Louisiana by saying, "I would like my life back." He was quoted by the Times of London suggesting that Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims — a statement that gained significance Friday when a House committee said BP has paid less than 12 percent of claims submitted. President Barack Obama suggested he would fire Hayward if he could.
BP's move overshadowed some positive news in the cleanup effort. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen announced earlier Friday that a newly expanded containment system is capturing or incinerating more than 1 million gallons of oil daily, the first time it has approached its peak capacity.
Dudley, an American-born oil man with more than 30 years in the industry, has been BP's managing director since 2009. His responsibilities include broad oversight of the company's activities in the Americas and Asia, and earlier this month he was named head of the company's disaster management unit.
World's offer of help comes with a cost
WASHINGTON — At least 22 nations — including Britain, where BP is based — have offered oil-collecting skimmers, boom, technical experts and more to help the United States cope with its worst-ever environmental disaster. But their generosity comes with a price tag. The State Department confirmed that nearly every offer of equipment or expertise from a foreign government since the April 20 oil rig explosion would require the U.S. to reimburse that country.
Only Mexico, with wide swaths of poverty among its population, offered the United States anything for free. It said it would give the U.S. some containment boom. BP separately purchased 13,780 feet of boom and two skimmers from Mexico in early May.
Britain, America's closest ally and headquarters to London-based BP, said it would sell chemical dispersants and containment boom. Russia, which received $70.5 million in U.S. aid last year and $78 million in 2008, said it could send boom, oil containers and ships if the United States paid for them.
China offered containment boom for a price. The U.S. spends roughly $30 million on foreign aid to China each year.
Israel, which receives roughly $3 billion in U.S. military aid and other assistance, also said it would send containment boom, if the U.S. paid for it.
France offered to send chemical dispersants and equipment to clean oil off birds but only for a price.
Kenya, which received more than $24 million in U.S. aid last year and $11 million in 2008 for humanitarian aid, offered to send fire boom if the Obama administration paid.
Vietnam offered a ship with oil-collecting sweep arms if the U.S. paid for it. The U.S. spent $102 million in all types of aid to Vietnam in 2008.
Romania made a "general offer of support" but asked the U.S. government for payment. After floods in July 2008, the U.S. gave $50,000 for emergency supplies.
Croatia offered to send technical experts and plans, for a price. The U.S. gave Croatia $50,000 to buy firefighting equipment in 2007 when more than 800 wildfires broke out.
The next threat to marine life
NEW ORLEANS — Vast amounts of natural gas contained in crude escaping from the blown well could pose a serious threat to marine life by creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
The danger presented by the methane has been largely overlooked, with early efforts to monitor the oil spill focusing on the more toxic components of oil. But scientists are increasingly worried about the gas that can suffocate sea creatures.
At least 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas — and possibly almost twice that amount — have leaked since April 20. Based on estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey's "flow team" that 2,900 cubic feet of natural gas are escaping for every barrel of oil, nearly half of what's coming out of the leak is methane.
"This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history," said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer.
Small microbes that live in the sea have been feeding on the oil and natural gas and are consuming larger quantities of oxygen, which they need to digest food. As they draw more oxygen from the water, it creates two problems. When oxygen levels drop low enough, the breakdown of oil grinds to a halt; and as it is depleted in the water, most life can't be sustained.