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Helpers ready but left out of spill cleanup

July 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Obama administration and BP are facing increasing complaints that they're ignoring available oil cleanup help in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the Coast Guard, there have been 107 offers of help from 44 nations, ranging from technical advice to skimmer boats and booms. Many of those offers are weeks old and only a fraction have been accepted. The majority of the offers are still under review, according to the State Department.

Also, many fishing boats hired for the cleanup have been idle in recent weeks, for reasons BP has never explained.

In one example provided by investigators with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the Dutch government offered to provide four oil skimmers on April 30. The skimmers could collectively process more than 6 million gallons of oily water daily. The U.S. took seven weeks to approve that offer.

White House officials claim this seven-week approval time is false. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that 24 foreign vessels were operating in the Gulf before this week. He did not specifically address the Dutch vessels.

The help is needed. According to the high end of the federal government's estimates, millions of gallons of crude have spewed from the bottom of the sea since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform.

The frustration extends to the volunteers who have offered to clean beaches and wetlands. More than 20,000 volunteers have signed up to help in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, yet fewer than one in six has received an assignment or the training required to take part in some chores, according to BP.

More than 2,000 boats have signed up for oil-spill duty under BP's Vessel of Opportunity program. The company pays boat captains and their crews a flat fee based on the size of the vessel, ranging from $1,200 to $3,000 a day, plus a $200 fee for each crew member who works an eight-hour day.

Latest Developments:

  • According to the government's estimates, the disaster would eclipse the 140-million-gallon Ixtoc disaster in the Gulf three decades ago and rank as the biggest offshore oil spill during peacetime. The biggest spill in history happened in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi forces opened valves at a terminal and dumped about 336 million gallons of oil.

    Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana's hard-hit Plaquemines Parish, said BP and the Coast Guard provided a map of the exact locations of 140 skimmers that were supposedly cleaning up the oil. But he said that after he repeatedly asked to be flown over the area so he could see them at work, officials told him only 31 skimmers were on the job.

  • The Coast Guard said there are roughly 550 skimmers working in the Gulf, with 250 or so in Louisiana waters, 136 in Florida, 87 in Alabama and 76 in Mississippi, although stormy weather in recent days has kept the many of the vessels from working.
  • BP and wildlife protection groups are working out details of an agreement to resolve a lawsuit alleging turtles were killed as BP burned oil from its blown-out well in the Gulf. The deal under negotiation calls for biologists to be present whenever oil is burned, looking for any turtles trapped in corrals that BP PLC is using to capture and burn oil on the surface of the water.The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Animal Welfare Institute and other groups accuses BP of violating the Endangered Species Act. The groups are virtually certain turtles have been caught and burned, but no charred remains have been discovered.

AP contributed to this report.


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