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BP oil spill cleanup work hampered by hurricane
VENICE, Louisiana |
VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Hurricane Alex slowed oil clean-up and containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, with any permanent fix to BP Plc's ruptured deep-sea oil well still several weeks away.
The hurricane made landfall over northeastern Mexico late on Wednesday, its high winds and the rough seas delaying the British energy giant's plans to expand the volume of oil it is siphoning from the leaking well.
Alex is forecast to dissipate over Mexico in the next day or two.
The bad weather also threatened to push more oil-polluted water onto the shoreline of the U.S. Gulf Coast and forced the halting of skimming, spraying of dispersant chemicals and controlled burns of oil on the ocean surface, officials said.
The worst oil spill in U.S. history is in its 73rd day. It has caused an environmental and economic disaster along the U.S. Gulf Coast, hurting fishing and tourism industries, soiling shorelines and killing wildlife.
President Barack Obama was scheduled to meet with senior U.S. officials on Thursday to review the spill situation and oil containment plans, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Wednesday one of two relief wells being drilled by BP in a bid to stop the leak from the ruptured well will take several weeks to reach the spewing oil pipe. The relief wells are intended to intersect and then plug the leak.
BP kept oil-capture and relief well drilling operations going at the leak site through the bad weather.
BP's market capitalization has shrunk by about $100 billion and its shares have lost more than half their value since the spill began on April 20 but are showing signs of stabilizing. After rising for a third straight day in New York trading on Wednesday, the shares were up about 0.2 percent at 319.5 pence in London on Thursday.
Alex, a Category 2 hurricane when it reached land, unleashed maximum sustained winds near 105 miles (169 km) per hour, uprooting trees and toppling flimsy houses. It hit the coast of Tamaulipas state in northeastern Mexico, about 100 miles (160 km) south of Brownsville, Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Centre said.
In Washington, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted on Wednesday to eliminate limits on liability that oil companies would face for oil spill damages.
The measure, which would apply retroactively to the BP spill, must be passed by the full Senate and the House of Representatives before going to President Barack Obama to sign into law. Oil companies currently have a $75 million cap for compensating local communities for economic losses and cleaning up environmental damage.
BP already has agreed to set up an independently administered fund of $20 billion to compensate victims.
The Interior Department said on Wednesday it was postponing until later this year planned public hearings on a proposal from Obama -- made before the BP spill began -- to expand offshore oil drilling.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist on Wednesday asked BP for $50 million to fund a tourism advertising campaign, on top of a $25 million grant already received.
"Every dollar spent allows Florida businesses to stay open, Floridians to keep their jobs, and families to worry less about how to pay their bills," Crist wrote in a letter to Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer.
Some clean-up workers along the coast expressed anxiety about the time lost to the storm.
"If you have to move all this equipment out and then back in again, how much time is lost there?" said Phil Ramon, a disaster management consultant in Belle Chasse, Louisiana.
In Mississippi, clean-up crews contracted by BP were forced to temporarily pack up their gear, taking time away from cleaning the oil off tourist beaches.
"We are getting out of the storm right now, but we will be back," said Bill Sigler.
The weather delayed BP's plans to boost containment capacity at the undersea well.
U.S. government officials estimate 35,000 barrels (1.47 million gallons/5.56 million litres) to 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons/9.5 million litres) are gushing from the blown-out well each day. BP's current containment systems can handle up to 28,000 barrels daily and its planned addition could raise that to 53,000.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank in 5,000 feet (1,525 metres) of water after an April 20 explosion and fire killed 11 workers.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Kristin Hays and Anna Driver in Houston, Tom Doggett in Washington, Michael Peltier in Florida and Leigh Coleman in Mississippi; Writing by Ros Krasny; Editing by Will Dunham and Will Waterman)
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