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BP oil disaster reaches Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys
Author: Gerald Helguero ,, 07-07-2010
United States


KEY WEST, Florida - Scientists have identified a 20-mile oil slick as far south and east as the Dry Tortugas, about half way between Florida and Cuba, even as the U.S. government is trying to gain more control of BP funds to pay for claims and damages resulting from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon well.

The spill, which has already hit the shores of several Gulf states, has made its way to the so-called loop current, sending scattered tar balls and oil mixed with water as far as the southwest tip of the Florida Panhandle.

South Florida scientists working in conjunction with the government's oceanic science agency reported that they had discovered a 20-mile oil slick in the area of the Dry Tortugas National Park and the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, the government is pushing to gain more control over BP's funds to pay for claims and damages while faulting the company for putting finances ahead of safety.

"BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure," the House Committee on Energy and Commerce told the BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward in a letter today, ahead of his Thursday appearance before the committee.

Lawmakers said pressure grew to "take shortcuts" to finish work on the company's well, which was significantly behind schedule. Lawmakers gave detailed information on five decisions made by the company in the hours and the days before the explosion, which killed 11 men and led to the sinking of the rig, triggering an uncontrolled spill which has yet to be stopped.

"We ask that you come prepared on Thursday to address the concerns that these decisions raise about BP's actions," the letter said.

Issues raised related to well design, a cementing process for plugging the well, and gas management.

The government letter also comes as President Barack Obama begins a two-day trip to the Gulf to assess the ongoing response to the spill. Obama plans to address the nation tomorrow. He will meet with top BP executives on Wednesday in Washington.

The Obama administration and top Democratic Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are also pressing BP to establish an escrow account to manage claims. 

"Establishment of this account would serve as an act of good faith and as a first step toward ensuring that there will be no delay in payments or attempt to evade responsibility for damages," Reid said in a letter to BP released Monday.

The fund, which Reid said should contain $20 billion would be administered by an independent trustee to quickly pay for damages and cleaning up the spill.

by Gerald Helguero