Lawmakers review oil leak video, continue to pressure BP

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Stepping up its probe of the environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, Senate investigators began reviewing video footage from 12 underwater cameras dating back to the April 20 drilling rig explosion in the hope it will cast more light on the extent of the spill.

At the same time, increasingly anxious Gulf Coast lawmakers appealed to Washington for help to protect their states from disaster. Florida lawmakers asked President Obama on Friday for help in determining the amount of oil leaking and threatening to wreak havoc on their state’s economy and environment.


“There’s a significant surface oil slick in the gulf,’’ a bipartisan group of the lawmakers wrote Obama, ‘but we believe that the larger threat may be from oil suspended in the water column below the ocean’s surface.’

The lawmakers said they fear that oil moving into strong loop currents ‘could bring oil to our coastlines within a few days.’’ The staff of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has contacted the Navy to see if it can help.
Louisiana lawmakers pressed federal officials to swiftly approve the building of a sand barrier to protect marshes and wetlands.

‘It is clear that booms are not working in most areas of coastal Louisiana,’’ Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said in a statement Friday. ‘If we had healthy barrier islands, this spill may not be as catastrophic for Louisiana.’’

Meanwhile, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), obtained the lengthy video archive of the well site from BP. The committee hopes to make the video available to the public but especially to scientists for use in evaluating the size of the spill. The archive is expected to take considerable time to review since the footage covers nearly a month of data.

‘There is a strong public interest in access to the video records of the Deepwater Horizon spill, given the serious threat to the coastal economy and the environment,’’ Boxer said. The video archive is in addition to live video of the leak that lawmakers obtained from BP and posted on their websites. Demand for the live video has been so high that servers have repeatedly crashed.

The review of the video archives comes as lawmakers grow increasingly angry over BP’s inability to plug the leak and contain the spill. ‘The public is rightfully frustrated that the leak has not been halted,’’ Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) complained Friday at yet another congressional briefing on the spill.

‘At a minimum, tens of thousands of barrels a day are escaping from the well, with some estimates ranging above 70,000 barrels a day,’’ Markey said in a letter sent Friday to BP, Transocean and Halliburton.

‘Your companies bear complete responsibility for this disaster,’’ he said in asking them to create a fund, managed by an independent entity, to bring aboard researchers from academia and other institutions to assist in the response. ‘We need to have all of our best minds on board and all hands on deck to confront this ongoing environmental catastrophe,’’ he wrote.

A group of scientists from government and academia known as the ‘flow rate technical group’ is due to examine the video to try to determine the extent of the spill.

Congress next week plans more hearings on the spill and is expected to debate a big increase in the per-barrel tax -- from 8 cents to 32 cents -- paid by oil companies into a spill cleanup fund and consider a package of emergency financial aid for the Gulf Coast.

-- Richard Simon