Archive for May, 2010

British Airways cabin crew launch new strikes (AP)

Sunday, May 30th, 2010 | Finance News

LONDON – British Airways cabin crew have launched a new five-day strike in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

BA says flights to and from Heathrow, one of Europe's busiest hubs, will be affected by the walkout. But the carrier says it can operate more than half of its services because more cabin crew than expected had decided to cross the picket line.

It says all flights will operate at the smaller Gatwick and London City airports.

Cabin crew walked off their jobs on May 24 and launched another strike Sunday after talks failed. They plan to strike for another five days from June 5, if a solution to the long-running dispute is not found.

Seven days of walkouts in March over the same dispute cost BA around 43 million pounds ($63 million).

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Media claim access to spill site has been limited (AP)

Saturday, May 29th, 2010 | Finance News

NEW ORLEANS – Media organizations say they are being allowed only limited access to areas impacted by the Gulf oil spill through restrictions on plane and boat traffic that are making it difficult to document the worst spill in U.S. history.

In at least two cases, a media organization and a seaplane pilot say BP PLC — the company responsible for cleaning up the spill — appeared to have a role in deciding on access.

Other media, including The Associated Press, have reported coverage problems because their access has been restricted, though not all have linked the decision to BP. Government officials say restrictions are needed to protect wildlife and ensure safe air traffic.

Ted Jackson, a photographer for The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, said Saturday that access to the spill "is slowly being strangled off."

A CBS news story said one of its reporting teams was threatened with arrest by the Coast Guard and turned back from an oiled beach at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The story said the reporters were told the denial was under "BP's rules."

U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration officials said BP PLC was not controlling access.

Coast Guard officials also said there was no intent to conceal the scope of the disaster. Rather, they said, the spill's complexity had made it difficult to allow the open access sought by the media.

Associated Press Senior Managing Editor Mike Oreskes said the news organization was concerned about the restrictions.

"The Coast Guard obviously has a responsibility to protect natural habitats from both the seeping oil and from excessive traffic," Oreskes said in a statement. "But we have a shared responsibility to keep the public informed about this extraordinary event. It is not the job of either the government or BP to keep journalists from seeing what has happened."

Coast Guard Lt. Commander Rob Wyman said personnel involved in the CBS dispute said no one was threatened with arrest.

Vessels responding to the spill are surrounded by a 500 yard "standoff area" with restricted access, he said.

"If we see anybody impeding operations, we're going to ask you to move. We're going to ask you to back up and move away," he said.

BP contractors are operating alongside the FAA and Coast Guard at a command center that approves or denies flight requests. Charter pilots say they have been denied permission to fly below 3,000 feet when they have reporters or photographers aboard.

Those special flight restrictions, imposed on May 12, cover thousands of square miles of the Gulf and a broad swath of Louisiana's coast. Normally there are no restrictions on flying.

Charter seaplane pilot Lyle Panepinto of Belle Chasse, La., said his request to enter restricted airspace was denied after he told a BP contractor that his passenger was Jackson, the Times-Picayune photographer

The contractor, Dennis Dorsey, worked in a command center staffed by the company, the Coast Guard and the FAA. Reached by telephone Dorsey, who works for O'Brien's Response Management, said Panepinto's flight was rejected because it was not part of the response to the spill. He said that was based on rules set by the FAA.

"We don't want people (in the restricted flight area) that aren't working through this group trying to take care of the environmental problem," he said. "That's all set by the FAA."

Government officials and BP contractors take turns answering calls from pilots with requests for exemptions from the flight restrictions, Dorsey said.

The chief of the Coast Guard's public affairs programs branch said access had been hampered by a cumbersome approval process that stretched all the way to the White House.

Chief Warrant Officer Adam Wine said White House officials had to sign off on requests for tours of the spill zone before they could proceed. The Coast Guard is attempting to increase access through guided boat and aircraft tours, he said. Still, there is no plan to lift restrictions on flights or boat traffic into offshore areas — including some barrier islands.

White House officials referred questions about their involvement to Wyman. He said Wine's description of the chain of command was incorrect and that all requests from media were decided on by the command center in Robert, La. The Department of Homeland Security is notified, he said.

Two weeks ago, oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau was turned away from waters near a wildlife sanctuary after the Coast Guard discovered a reporter and a photographer from The Associated Press were on board.

Jackson, The Times-Picayune photographer, said he had been kept back from oil-covered beaches and denied a request to fly below 3,000 feet.

Referring to the elevations pilot are mandated to maintain, Jackson added: "The oil spill from there is just a rumor."

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said hundreds of flights related to the recovery effort go each day into the restricted airspace, including aircraft from the oil industry and law enforcement that are exempt from the flight restrictions.

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BP’s top kill effort fails to plug Gulf oil leak (AP)

Saturday, May 29th, 2010 | Finance News

ROBERT, La. – BP admitted defeat Saturday in its attempt to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak by pumping mud into a busted well, but is readying yet another approach after repeated failures to stop the crude that's fouling marshland and beaches.

BP PLC Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the company determined the "top kill" had failed after it spent three days pumping heavy drilling mud into the crippled well 5,000 feet underwater. More than 1.2 million gallons of mud was used, but most of it escaped out of the damaged riser.

In the six weeks since the spill began, the company has failed in each attempt to stop the gusher, as estimates of how much oil is leaking grow more dire. The spill is the worst in U.S. history — exceeding even the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster — and dumping between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf, according to government estimates.

"This scares everybody, the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven't succeeded so far," Suttles said. "Many of the things we're trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet."

The company failed in the days after the spill to use robot submarines to close valves on the massive blowout preventer atop the damaged well, then two weeks later ice-like crystals clogged a 100-ton box the company tried placing over the leak. Earlier this week, engineers removed a mile-long siphon tube after it sucked up a disappointing 900,000 gallons of oil from the gusher.

Frustration has grown as drifting oil closes beaches and washes up in sensitive marshland. The damage is underscored by images of pelicans and their eggs coated in oil. Below the surface, oyster beds and shrimp nurseries face certain death.

President Barack Obama visited the coast Friday to see the damage as he tried to emphasize that his administration was in control of the crisis. He told people in Grand Isle, where the beach has been closed by gobs of oil, that they wouldn't be abandoned.

After BP announced the top kill failure, Obama said from Chicago that the continued flow of oil into the Gulf is "as enraging as it is heartbreaking."

Suttles said BP is already preparing for the next attempt to stop the leak that began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April, killing 11 people.

The company plans to use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser from which the oil is leaking, and then try to cap it with a containment valve. The effort is expected to take between four and seven days.

"We're confident the job will work but obviously we can't guarantee success," Suttles said of the new plan, declining to handicap the likelihood it will work.

He said that cutting off the damaged riser isn't expected to cause the flow rate of leaking oil to increase significantly.

The permanent solution to the leak, a relief well currently being drilled, won't be ready until August, BP says.

Experts have said that a bend in the damaged riser likely was restricting the flow of oil somewhat, so slicing it off and installing a new containment valve is risky.

"If they can't get that valve on, things will get much worse," said Philip W. Johnson, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama.

Johnson said he thinks BP can succeed with the valve, but added: "It's a scary proposition."

Word that the top-kill had failed hit hard in fishing communities along Louisiana's coast.

"Everybody's starting to realize this summer's lost. And our whole lifestyle might be lost," said Michael Ballay, the 59-year-old manager of the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, La., near where oil first made landfall in large quanities almost two weeks ago.

Johnny Nunez, owner of Fishing Magician Charters in Shell Beach, La., said the spill is hurting his business during what's normally the best time of year — and there's no end in sight.

"If fishing's bad for five years, I'll be 60 years old. I'll be done for," he said after watching BP's televised announcement.




AP Radio correspondent Shelly Adler and Associated Press Writers Matthew Brown and Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.

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