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BP oil lands on Alabama, Mississippi coasts

Feds open criminal probe of Gulf oil spill; BP stock tumbles
June 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that federal authorities have opened criminal and civil investigations into the nation's worst oil spill, and BP lost billions in market value when shares dropped in the first trading day since the company failed yet again to plug the gusher.

Latest developments:

  • Red-brown oil is making its first appearance on Dauphin Island, an Alabama island near the mouth of Mobile Bay, three weeks after tar balls were found there. Dauphin Island is a popular tourist destination. Officials closed some state waters to fishing and posted warnings urging beachgoers to stay out of the water. Barbour said vessels will be dispatched to clean up the oil.
  • Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuesday that a two-mile long, three-feet wide strand of caramel-colored oil has been found on Petit Bois Island, a barrier island near the Mississippi-Alabama border.
  • Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi all have been hit by oil.
  • BP's stock plummeted and took much of the market down with it Tuesday as the federal government announced criminal and civil investigations into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP's stock lost nearly 15 percent of its value on the first trading day since the previous best option - the so-called "top kill" - failed and was aborted at the government's direction.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that federal authorities have opened criminal and civil investigations into the nation's worst oil spill.
  • Director James Cameron was among a group of scientists and other experts who met Tuesday with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies for a brainstorming session on stopping the massive oil leak. Cameron is considered an expert on underwater filming and remote vehicle technologies.

Criminal, civil investigations opened

Attorney General Eric Holder, who was visiting the Gulf to survey the fragile coastline and meet with state and federal prosecutors, would not specify the companies or individuals that might be targeted in the probes into the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

"We will closely examine the actions of those involved in the spill. If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be extremely forceful in our response," Holder said in New Orleans.

Holder said the laws under review for the criminal and civil probes include the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. He said the government would pursue criminal charges "if warranted," a caveat he did not include for civil action.

Washington lawyer Stan Brand said that two likely criminal law theories the Justice Department will pursue are false statements to the Interior Department's Mineral Management Service and obstruction by failing to produce evidence to investigators.

Continuing effort to contain leak

After six weeks of failures to block the well or divert the oil, BP was using robotic machines to carve into the twisted appendages of the crippled well. The latest attempt involved using tools resembling an oversized deli slicer and garden shears to break away the broken riser pipe so engineers can then position a cap over the well's opening.

Even if it succeeds, it will temporarily increase the flow of an already massive leak by 20 percent - at least 100,000 gallons more a day. And it is far from certain that BP will be able to cap a well that one expert compared to an out-of-control fire hydrant.

"It is an engineer's nightmare," said Ed Overton, a Louisiana State University professor of environmental sciences. "They're trying to fit a 21-inch cap over a 20-inch pipe a mile away. That's just horrendously hard to do. It's not like you and I standing on the ground pushing - they're using little robots to do this."

The operation has never been performed in such deep water, and is similar to an earlier failed attempt that used a larger cap and quickly froze up. BP PLC officials said they were applying lessons learned from the earlier effort.

"If all goes as planned, within about 24 hours we could have this contained," BP's Doug Suttles said Tuesday after touring a temporary housing facility set up for cleanup workers in Grand Isle. "But we can't guarantee success."

Since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and eventually collapsing into the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 20 million to 40 million gallons of oil has spewed, eclipsing the 11 million that leaked from the Exxon Valdez disaster.

BP stock tumbles

BP shares closed down 13 percent at 429.9 pence ($6.31) on the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday - making it the biggest fall on the exchange on the first day of trading since the company's unsuccessful attempts at a "top kill" operation, shooting mud and other debris into the leaking well, over the weekend. The London bourse was closed on Monday for a public holiday.

On the New York Stock Exchange, BP closed down $6.43, or almost 15 percent, at $36.52.

Some analysts believe that BP's stock will rebound if renewed efforts to contain the spread of oil from the broken Deepwater Horizon well are successful, but others suggest that the company could become a takeover target.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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