Washington / London: The Gulf of Mexico oil spill piled pressure on Barack Obama on Thursday as the hurricane season closed in and voters angry at his crisis management hammered the US president in a poll rating.
BP was able to restart one of its containment operations on Wednesday after a delay caused by an undersea collision of equipment, and coastal fishermen, cut off for weeks from the rich Gulf fishing grounds, were allowed back in some waters.
But weather changes could hamper clean-up efforts and make collecting the spewing crude more difficult.
The US National Hurricane Center said a tropical wave to the south of Cuba had a 30% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next two days.
Private forecaster Weather Services International said the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season will be even more active than it feared in May, adding two storms and one hurricane to its prediction of a month ago. Meanwhile a new lawsuit was filed against BP Plc by a US pension fund hurt by the sharp slide in the British oil company’s shares since its deepwater drilling operation exploded on April 20 and caused the worst oil spill in US history.
According to a market source, BP chief executive Tony Hayward is due to meet investors in London on Friday. BP declined comment.
The 20 April blast killed 11 workers and kicked off a crude gusher from the sea bed which still spews over two months later.
The crisis has thrust to the top of Obama’s crowded domestic agenda and a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found half of those surveyed disapproved of his handling of the spill.
Overall Obama’s rating stood at 45% in the poll, down 5 points from early last month. For the first time in the survey, more people, or 48%, say they disapprove of his job performance.
The government has asked district judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans to put on hold his ruling against a proposed six-month deepwater oil drilling moratorium pending an appeal.
The court had ruled the drilling ban was too far-reaching and not adequately justified despite the spill.
The Justice Department said in its filing that the temporary moratorium only affected 33 active deepwater drills in the Gulf of Mexico and the harm from another potential oil spill far outweighed those interests.
New Ban in the Works
In addition to the appeal, interior secretary Ken Salazar said he would revise his original order suspending drilling 500 feet (152 meters) below sea level to make it more flexible and thus address the court’s concerns.
Washington imposed a moratorium on deepwater drilling after the 20 April explosion but oil drillers want to get back to work and analysts said the ban does not fit US energy policy.
“Obama’s attempts to restrict deepwater drilling are at odds with another policy -- to cut dependence on imported oil,” said Jonathan Barratt, managing director of Commodity Broking Services.
“By taking deepwater supplies out of the equation, US self sufficiency in oil could fall to around 30% in 2035 from around 40% if deepwater production is allowed.”
Deep-Sea Robot Collision
Late on Wednesday, BP said it was capturing oil and gas again after the well gushed largely unchecked for much of the day when an undersea robot collided with the recovery system.
BP reinstalled the critical containment cap after several hours and it resumed oil and gas collection at 2000 EDT on Wednesday (0000 GMT Thursday).
The cap system installed on 3 June captured 16,600 barrels on Tuesday, BP said.
A separate oil-flaring system that collected 10,500 barrels is still operating. A team of U.S. scientists estimate the leak is spewing between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day.
The spreading oil slick has shut down rich fishing grounds, killed hundreds of turtles and seabirds and dozens of dolphins and soiled the coastlines of four US states.
Some Gulf fishermen had something to cheer for a change.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said late on Wednesday it had opened 8,000 square miles (20,700 kms) of previously closed fishing grounds in the Gulf because no oil was seen in the areas.
The areas were south of Mississippi and off the coasts of Louisiana and central Florida. About 32.5% of federal waters in the Gulf remain closed, down from 36 percent previously.
BP Value Destruction
As well as clean-up costs, BP faces fines and an increasing number of lawsuits, including one filed by New York’s state pension fund over the destruction of value for investors.
The company, once Britain’s largest, has pledged $20 billion to a special clean-up and compensation fund and stopped dividends for this year and its share have lost almost half their value since the spill.
On Thursday, BP shares were up 0.6% at 335.65 pence at 1007 GMT, above the 13-year lows reached this week.