Stats show slow pace of spill claim payments

NEW ORLEANS The oil giant responded quickly Friday, claiming it has paid a higher percentage of claims to those harmed by the Gulf spill than was indicated by data from the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee said in a statement that only $71 million out of an estimated $600 million had been paid as of Tuesday. By dollar value, the House tally equals less than 12 percent of what's been claimed.

But, as of Friday, the dollar value of payouts was $95 million, according to BP spokesman Scott Dean.

Meanwhile, vast amounts of natural gas contained in crude escaping from the blown oil well could pose a serious threat to marine life by creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.

John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill, says the /*oil*/ emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits.

Methane is a colorless, odorless and flammable substance that is a major component in the natural gas used to heat people's homes.

Petroleum engineers typically burn off excess gas attached to /*crude*/ before the oil is shipped off to the refinery. That's exactly what BP has done as it has captured more than 7.5 million gallons of crude from the breached well.

The oil giant was burning about 30 million cubic feet of natural gas daily from the source of the leak, adding up to about 450 million cubic feet since the containment effort started 15 days ago, according to a BP spokesman.

The small microbes that live in the sea have been feeding on the oil and /*natural gas*/ in the water 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.

Latest Developments:

  • /*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. And the system will soon grow. By late June, the oil giant hopes it can keep nearly 90 percent of the flow from hitting the ocean.
  • Allen also said the Coast Guard is ramping up efforts to capture the crude closer to shore with the help of private boats. As of Friday morning, between 65 million and 121.6 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, based on federal daily flow rate estimates.
  • /*BP CEO Tony Hayward*/ on Thursday told /*Congress*/ members that he was "so devastated with this accident," "deeply sorry" and "so distraught."
  • But he also testified that he was out of the loop on decisions at the well and disclaimed knowledge of any of the myriad problems on and under the Deepwater Horizon rig before the deadly explosion. BP was leasing the rig the /*Deepwater Horizon*/ that exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the environmental disaster.
  • "BP blew it," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the House investigations panel that held the hearing. "You cut corners to save money and time."
  • The verbal onslaught had been anticipated for days and unfolded at a nearly relentless pace. Hayward had one seemingly sympathetic listener, /*Rep. Joe Barton*/, R-Texas, who apologized for the pressure /*President Barack Obama*/ had put on BP to create a compensation fund. Hours later, after criticism from Republicans and Democrats as well as the White House, Barton backed off and apologized for his apology.
  • Barton's earlier remarks were clearly an embarrassment for the party. House Republican leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mike Pence issued a statement asserting: "Congressman Barton's statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose."
  • Obama cast the latest stone against BP on Tuesday in a nationally televised address in which he accused the oil giant of recklessness and vowed to make the company pay.
  • An AP-GfK poll released the same day found that 83 percent of Americans disapprove of BP's handling of the spill. The anti-BP invective has been so great it has alarmed people in BP's home country, where Britons depend on BP because it helps fund pension accounts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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