Friday: Work on Oil Well Stops; North Korea Threatens ‘Physical Response’

BY Tom LeGro  July 23, 2010 at 9:09 AM EST

With Tropical Storm Bonnie expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend, crews have stopped their efforts to plug BP’s broken oil well and clean up the waters, halting work on the two relief wells and evacuating ships from the area.

BP and government officials said that the cap sealing the well and preventing oil from flowing into the water will remain in place during the evacuation.

National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen released this statement Thursday night:


“Due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site, many of the vessels and rigs will be preparing to move out of harm’s way beginning tonight. This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment. Some of the vessels may be able to remain on site, but we will err on the side of safety.”

“As I stated earlier today, I have directed BP to continue with the well shut in procedure while the work to kill the well is temporarily suspended. I have also directed BP to take measures to ensure the vessels operating the ROV’s (remotely operated vehicles) are the last to leave, and the first to return in order to maximize monitoring of the well. Monitoring of the site during the well integrity test remains one of the government’s highest priorities.”

“While these actions may delay the effort to kill the well for several days, the safety of the individuals at the well site is our highest concern. We are staging our skimming vessels and other assets in a manner that will allow us to promptly re-start oil mitigation efforts as soon as the storm passes and we can ensure the safety of our personnel.”

The storm could delay work on the well by another 12 days.

Meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports that “two managers from BP have been named as subjects of a federal investigation into the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.” The men are the first individuals from BP to be named “parties in interest” in the case, indicating that they are potential targets of the probe.

The New Orleans-Times Picayune reports that the inspector general of the Interior Department is investigating whether the agency’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling was properly enacted in response to the spill.

Oil Spill in China

China is dealing with an oil spill of its own, the largest one ever recorded there. The Washington Post reports, “Hundreds of firefighters and civilian volunteers used bare hands, chopsticks and plastic garbage bags Thursday to wage a low-tech battle against a giant oil slick spreading off China’s northeastern coast.”

The spill, near the oil port of Dalian in Liaoning province, was caused when two pipelines exploded last Friday as crude was being unloaded from a Libyan tanker. Government officials said about 1,500 tons (400,000 gallons) of oil has spilled into the Yellow Sea, covering up to 170 square miles.

North Korea Threatens ‘Physical Response’

North Korea on Friday threatened the United States and South Korea with a “physical response” to planned joint naval exercises this weekend.

A spokesman for the North Korean delegation to the Southeast Asian regional security forum taking place in Vietnam also repeated the North’s denial of responsibility for the March sinking of the ship that killed 46 South Korean sailors.

John Sudworth of the BBC writes:

“Angry rhetoric from North Korea is nothing new — it serves both a domestic political purpose, keeping the enemy constantly in the forefront of its citizens’ minds, and an external one, by raising tension when Pyongyang believes it is in its interests to do so. … At times the language turns flamboyant, even poetic. So it is difficult to know what to make of the latest, threatened ‘physical response’, but on past form, it probably should not be taken at face value.”