Content tagged “Disaster and accident”

Landrieu, Cassidy jockey to claim victory on flood insurance as Senate race heats up

Early on, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu led the charge to delay dramatic increases in the premiums paid by homeowners covered under the federal flood insurance program. While Landrieu, a lead sponsor of the proposal, held the microphone at one news conference after another on the issue, Rep. Bill Cassidy, the leading Republican running for her seat, stood quietly to the side at one of those conferences and listened. That changed late last week, Gannett Louisiana reports, when Cassidy took the microphone at a news conference to celebrate a vote approving the House version of the flood insurance measure—a version he helped craft. With a bill possibly just days from final enactment—the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the House bill this week—Landrieu and Cassidy are jockeying to claim credit for its success during one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. "It might have a positive effect on both candidates by raising their favorables," says...

Oil spill, temporary river shutdown highlight risk of U.S. oil boom

The Louisiana barge crash and subsequent oil spill on Saturday that temporarily shut down a stretch of the Mississippi River as far north as Baton Rouge through Monday afternoon highlights the transportation risks of the U.S. energy boom, according to some sources cited in a Bloomberg report. "We're facing the imminent risk of a barge disaster or a rail disaster" as more oil is shipped to the Gulf of Mexico for refining, says Jonathan Henderson, a spokesman for the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network. A surge in U.S. oil production, reflecting in part advances in drilling techniques, has unlocked millions of barrels of oil from geologic formations such as North Dakota's Bakken shale, reducing U.S. reliance on imports. It has also ignited a debate over how to safely get the oil to refineries after a series of rail accidents involving oil tank cars, including a July derailment that killed 47 in a Quebec city. Of course, there are many in the oil and gas industry who maintain the...

Jindal asks Congress to stop flood insurance hikes

After months of staying largely silent on the issue, Gov. Bobby Jindal is urging congressional leaders to stop higher flood insurance premiums from hitting homeowners and businesses. The Associated Press reports Jindal sent a letter late Tuesday to the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the U.S. House and Senate, asking them to support an immediate delay in the increases set in motion by a 2012 revamp of the federal flood insurance program. The Republican governor described the insurance rate hikes that were tied to the program overhaul as "irrational, not actuarial." It was Jindal's first public and direct intervention to seek relief from the steep rate increases. Other state officials and business leaders have warned for months that soaring premiums could severely damage local economies. About 480,000 Louisiana homes and businesses have federal flood insurance.

Lawyers chided for contacting jurors in BP spill trial

A federal judge today ordered lawyers for a former BP engineer to refrain from any further contact with jurors who convicted the engineer of trying to obstruct a federal probe of the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Kurt Mix's attorneys have said they interviewed some jurors after the Dec. 18 verdict and found evidence of juror misconduct that warrants a new trial. In today's order, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. said he is concerned about the "appropriateness" of lawyers interviewing jurors without his permission. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has "expressed general hostility toward the practice of post-trial juror interviews," the judge noted. Duval instructed Mix's attorneys and Justice Department prosecutors to submit written arguments by Jan. 24 on whether the defense lawyers' contact with jurors should affect their motion for a new trial. Duval is set to hear arguments Feb. 26 on the motion for a new trial. Mix, 52, of Katy,...

$1.5 billion in storm recovery aid remains unspent in Louisiana

Louisiana has yet to spend $1.5 billion in federal disaster recovery aid provided by Congress after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike ravaged the state in 2005 and 2008. The flexible block grant rebuilding and strengthening money remains set aside for infrastructure repairs, home rebuilding, school reconstruction and business assistance. The Associated Press reports nearly all of it is tied to specific projects, as efforts to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles of recovery stretch over years. Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has defended the spending pace. Pat Forbes, Jindal's director for disaster recovery work, says his office is constantly reviewing unmet recovery needs to determine where money can be redirected. The amount of unspent cash represents about 10% of the $14.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant aid that Louisiana received from Congress after the storms.

Targets in BP settlement inquiry assail findings

Nearly six months after a federal judge appointed former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate alleged misconduct inside the settlement program for compensating victims of BP's 2010 Gulf oil spill, the targets of his inquiry are questioning his independence and trying to rebut his findings. The Associated Press reports Lionel "Tiger" Sutton III, a lawyer whose resignation from the staff of claims administrator Patrick Juneau spawned the investigation, urged U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier last week to throw out a scathing report that Freeh issued in September. The report concluded that top members of Juneau's staff, including Sutton, engaged in conduct that was improper, unethical and possibly criminal. Sutton's lawyer, Michael Walsh, argued in a Dec. 18 court filing that Freeh lacks evidence that his client broke any laws or had a conflict of interest during his work on the settlement. Freeh's report also accused two private attorneys, Glen Lerner and Jon Andry, of using Sutton's...

BP takes latest arguments over spill payments to appeals court

BP is again asking a New Orleans appeals court to intervene after a federal judge denied its latest attempt to block some payments in its multibillion-dollar oil spill settlement. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier tossed the British oil giant's argument that settlement claimants must show that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster actually caused profit or revenue losses, and BP promised to take the matter to a higher court. Barbier said BP could not take a position that contradicted its earlier stance in the settlement. He cited court documents in which BP said businesses' profit losses can be "presumed to be caused by the spill" after claimants meet certain criteria, such as geographic proximity to the spill. The Associated Press reports BP filed a notice of appeal today. In court documents, BP claimed last month it paid more than $540 million to claimants who could not have been harmed by the spill. All told, the company has paid out $3.8 billion to claimants since the...

Ex-BP engineer convicted on one obstruction charge, acquitted on second

A former BP drilling engineer was convicted today of deleting text messages from his cellphone to obstruct a federal investigation of the company's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Kurt Mix was found guilty on one charge and acquitted of a second charge. A federal jury deliberated for more than nine hours over three days before reaching the verdict on his case. The count of obstruction of justice carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Mix will be released on his present bond, and sentencing is scheduled for March 26. The Associated Press reports Mix hugged his friends and family members in the courtroom before leaving the courthouse hurriedly. "I'm only going to speak through counsel," he told one reporter trying to ask him a question. Trailing behind her brother in the courthouse lobby, Bridget Mix called the verdict "just unbelievable." "You can't wrap your head around any of it," she said. Prosecutors argued that the 52-year-old engineer...

Feds cite Houston firm, two La. contractors in fatal 2012 Gulf blast

The federal government slapped Houston-based Black Elk Energy and three contractors with 41 citations Wednesday, alleging they failed to ensure safe welding on a Gulf production platform where an explosion killed three workers last year. The Houston Chronicle reports the agency that led a federal investigation into the explosion says the citations, called "incidents of non-compliance," could lead to civil penalties for Black Elk and the following contractors: Compass Engineering & Consultants of Lafayette; Grand Isle Shipyard of Galliano, La.; and Wood Group PSN of Aberdeen, Scotland. The company and its contractors can appeal the charges within 60 days. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says in its list of citations that the contractors on the platform did not render flammable hydrocarbons in the piping and nearby tanks inert before welders began working and did not follow an approved welding plan. The agency detailed findings of its probe into the incident...

By Providence

In September, Baton Rouge-based Providence, an engineering and environmental firm, announced major developments involving two of its air quality technologies. While one project remains in the design stage, the other is being rolled out internationally.

BP fights feds' Gulf oil spill estimate in court

Attorneys for BP and the Justice Department squared off in federal court today over how much oil ended up in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a pivotal dispute in the trial over the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Fuelfix.com reports that fines for the British oil giant could balloon to $18 billion if U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier agrees with Justice Department calculations on the amount of oil that flowed into the Gulf after the April 20, 2010, disaster on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people. Four experts, using different methodologies and data BP provided, estimated that 5 million barrels of oil pushed out of the blown-out Macondo well and 4.2 million barrels reached the ocean, said Steve O'Rourke, a Justice Department attorney, in opening statements. The government and BP have agreed that various containment devices captured about 800,000 barrels of crude before it reached the ocean. Government experts based their calculation on estimates that crude spewed from the...

BP renews bid to suspend settlement payments

British oil giant BP today renewed its request for a federal judge to temporarily suspend settlement payments to Gulf Coast residents and businesses, citing a scathing report on alleged misconduct within the court-supervised program. The Associated Press reports that BP attorneys say in a court filing today that a report issued earlier this month by former FBI Director Louis Freeh shows the settlement program is plagued by problems that need to be fixed. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier already has rejected two previous requests by BP to suspend settlement payments, but both rulings preceded Freeh's Sept. 6 report. Freeh concluded that top members of claims administrator Patrick Juneau's staff engaged in conduct that was improper, unethical and possibly criminal, but said he didn't see a need to shut down settlement payments. BP lawyers questioned whether Barbier would have authorized Juneau to begin processing and paying claims more than a year ago had he known the settlement...

Halliburton to plead guilty today to criminal charge in Gulf oil spill case

Judgment day has arrived for oil field services firm Halliburton. Nearly three and a half years after a deadly rig explosion and massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the company that supplied the cement for the well that blew out will plead guilty today to a misdemeanor criminal charge in the case, The Houston Chronicle reports. Attorney Marc Mukasey and a corporate officer for Halliburton have been authorized to enter the plea on the company's behalf, according to a board resolution filed with the federal court in New Orleans. U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo will decide whether to accept Halliburton's guilty plea to destroying evidence after the disaster and the punishment it negotiated with the Justice Department—a $200,000 fine and three years' probation. Separately, the company made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that was not part of the plea deal accepted by Milazzo. Approval of the guilty plea would...

BP seeks cuts in settlement program's budget

BP has urged a federal judge to reject a $111 million budget request by the court-supervised administrator of the company's multibillion-dollar settlement with Gulf Coast businesses and residents. In a court filing Wednesday, The Associated Press reports BP attorneys say claims administrator Patrick Juneau refused to cut his office's fourth-quarter budget request by at least $25.5 million after the company complained that it was excessive. Last month, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ordered the London-based oil giant to pay more than $130 million for Juneau's third-quarter budget despite the company's objections. BP say Juneau's latest budget proposal isn't reasonable either, and shouldn't be approved. The company claims Juneau's office has failed to adequately manage its outside vendors' inflated expenses.

Battle over drainage decision continues

Did Ascension and Iberville parishes violate federal law when they opened the floodgate between Bayou Manchac and Alligator Bayou before getting permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? That's the question Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours owner Frank Bonifay wants the First Circuit Court of Appeal to answer. Attorneys for Bonifay and the two parishes have filed briefs in the case challenging the May 2009 decision to open the floodgate, which allowed Alligator Bayou to drain into Bayou Manchac, forcing Bonifay to close his 17-year-old ecotourism business. In a February ruling granting summary judgment in Bonifay's lawsuit challenging the move, Ascension Parish District Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr. acknowledged the "tragic" impact to Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours, but concluded the decision to open the floodgate was directly related to drainage and flood prevention and control. In their appeal, Bonifay's attorneys argue that Iberville and Ascension parishes violated federal law when...

Appeals court withdraws insurance ruling that favored BP in Gulf spill case

A federal appeals court today withdrew a previous decision allowing British oil giant BP to tap insurance policies held by Swiss drilling contractor Transocean to help cover damages from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Fuelfix.com reports the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans says it needs the Texas Supreme Court to address several questions about Texas insurance law before it can render a final decision. BP says in a statement that it believes "the 5th Circuit got it right in its previous unanimous opinion and think that result will be confirmed." A Transocean spokesman declined to comment. On March 1, the court had ruled in BP's favor, reversing a lower court ruling that held BP was not entitled to coverage under at least $750 million in policies held by Transocean in connection with its ownership of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. BP has argued that it was considered an additional insured party under Transocean's policies based on their Gulf drilling...

Kinder Morgan investigating La. plant fire

Initial reports are mixed on what exactly occurred at the Kinder Morgan Energy Partners terminal in Harvey, but company officials say a fire that left one man injured today has been extinguished. The Associated Press reports a trucker's leg was slightly burned in an explosion at the industrial site near New Orleans, citing the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office as its source. However, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Emily Mir tells Reuters that there was no explosion. "That's not accurate. There has been a fire that has been extinguished," Mir is quoted as saying. The Harvey Volunteer Fire Department quickly put out the fire this morning and the man was being treated at West Jefferson General Hospital, Col. John Fortunato, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, tells The AP. He says the truck's other driver, a woman, was not hurt. The truck was in an ethanol loading area at the Kinder Morgan Energy Partners' terminal when the fire started about 11:15 a.m., company spokesman Richard Wheatley...

Flood protection board may put parts of suit against oil, gas companies on hold

The New Orleans-area levee board pursuing a potentially historic lawsuit against nearly 100 oil and gas companies says it will consider pausing major aspects of its suit for at least 45 days. In return, says John Barry, vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, the authority wants to see a "good faith effort" from state officials, primarily Garret Graves, chairman of the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Gov. Bobby Jindal's point man on coastal issues, to get the industry to pay for its share of Louisiana's coastal land loss. Barry admittedly was vague when discussing the proposal with the Baton Rouge Press Club today. "There is every detail to work out," he says, adding the levee board's attorneys—who are working on a contingent-fee basis—would be willing to waive their contract and have their fees determined in arbitration. Jindal has demanded the levee board drop the suit, saying it has overstepped its authority,...

Remaining Lawtell derailment evacuees headed home

Authorities opened U.S. Highway 190 in St. Landry Parish in both directions earlier today and began escorting residents and business owners back into an area that was evacuated after a weekend train derailment. State police said two eastbound lanes of U.S. 190 were open, as well as one westbound lane. Twenty-six cars derailed Sunday near Lawtell, 60 miles west of Baton Rouge. Fourteen had materials considered hazardous, including two with highly toxic vinyl chloride. Those two have been unloaded and removed from the site. Officials still had more than a dozen cars to move as of early today. And, though the highway was open in both directions, state police spokesman Lt. Doug Cain tells The Associated Press that travelers were asked to avoid the area if possible. Earlier this week, about 100 people were allowed back in their homes after authorities lifted the evacuation order for residents living farther than a quarter-mile from the crash site. The cause of the accident remains under...

BP cites new fraud allegations in spill settlement

BP says it has uncovered new allegations of fraud and conflicts of interest inside the settlement program that has awarded billions of dollars to Gulf Coast businesses and residents for damage from the company's 2010 oil spill. BP attorneys outlined the allegations Monday in a court filing, which asks a federal judge to temporarily suspend settlement payments while former FBI Director Louis Freeh leads an independent investigation of the court-supervised settlement program. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rejected the same request last month, but BP said it only recently learned of new evidence of "more widespread and potentially systemic improprieties" in the program. Specifically, BP says at least two lawyers who have ruled on appeals of disputed settlement awards were partners at law firms that have represented claimants and filed claims of their own for the firms to be compensated. The settlement program, administered by Lafayette-based attorney Patrick Juneau, suspended that...

Wet to dry

After months of relief, dry conditions are returning to Louisiana at a time when rain is most critical for this fall's harvests.

Cleanup underway at derailment site in Louisiana

About 100 homes remained evacuated this morning as officials worked to clean up the site of a 26-car train derailment near the small community of Lawtell, about 60 miles west of Baton Rouge. The Union Pacific train went off the tracks Sunday around 3:30 p.m. Company spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza says one of the railcars was leaking sodium hydroxide, which can cause injuries or even death if it is inhaled or touches the skin. Another was leaking lube oil. State police say the leaks are contained, The Associated Press reports. Gov. Bobby Jindal flew into St. Landry Parish on Sunday night to inspect the scene. "Anytime you have chemicals leaking into the environment, that's a serious issue," Jindal said. "Nobody knows the extent of the damage. We'll get that in the next 24 hours." Crews were working to clear U.S. Highway 190 this morning, which runs parallel to the railway and was blocked by the accident. The railroad company doesn't know what caused the derailment. Espinoza says the...

Blowout off La. coast could tip regulator focus to shallow-water

Last week's blowout on a natural gas rig off the Louisiana coast could shift regulators' focus to shallow-water drilling and make an overhaul of safety equipment regulations more likely. Since the BP disaster in 2010, much of regulators' focus has been on drilling in Gulf water thousands of feet deep, The Associated Press reports. That's where the biggest oil companies are chasing large new fields and the risks seemed greatest in the wake of the spill. But inshore drilling continues as well, with some of the focus shifting to oil instead of natural gas as the price for gas has fallen because of onshore finds, including in shale formations. James Watson, director of the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said he plans to meet with executives from shallow-water drilling companies to discuss safety and risk reduction. "This vent and other recent...

Most of Louisiana abnormally dry or experiencing drought

After months of relief, dry conditions are returning to Louisiana at a time when rain is most critical for the fall harvests. Three months ago, just 7% of Louisiana was considered abnormally dry or in drought. But in the most recent drought analysis, 65% of the state is either abnormally dry or under moderate drought. For cotton, soybeans, sugarcane and grain sorghum crops, plenty of rain will be critical over the next few weeks, says Kurt Guidry, a professor of farm management at LSU's AgCenter. "We're still far enough away from harvest for those that they are still going to need some rain or some moisture," he says. "Most of those don't have enough now to sustain them through the growing season. They need moisture over the next three to four weeks to finalize their growth period." Corn crops, however, should be close enough to harvest that August rains won't have much of an impact, he says. "Corn is … probably at the point where moisture is not that critical for its yield...

BP exec says Gulf spill settlement unlikely

BP CEO Bob Dudley says it's unlikely Europe's second-biggest oil company will reach a settlement with the U.S. over its Gulf disaster as provisions set aside to pay for the spill are rising, Bloomberg reports. "It's highly unlikely we are now going to enter into detailed settlement discussions," Dudley told reporters in London today. "We're digging in for the long term." BP shares fell the most since 2011 on Dudley's remarks and after second-quarter profit was reported to have dropped more than analysts expected. The company lost a bid this month to halt payments to spill victims that it says are being unjustly awarded and today raised its estimate for the accident's total cost to $42.4 billion. The final bill is still uncertain three years after the blowout at the Macondo well. "The loss claims have really been misinterpreted from the agreement that we signed in good faith," Dudley said in a Bloomberg Television interview. "We're going to fight this." BP says it has been...

BP mounts heavy media campaign as judge weighs spill case

BP's unrelenting attack against how the Gulf oil spill civil settlement—which it agreed to—is being handled aims to win over the public, but the strategy risks antagonizing a key constituent who is following every word: the federal judge overseeing the case. As The Houston Chronicle reports, legal experts question the wisdom of BP's biting newspaper ads, social media commentary, television interviews and newspaper opinion pieces at a time when U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans is weighing whether the British oil giant should face billions of dollars in punitive damages. "It's very dangerous litigation-wise to engage in that kind of hyperbole," says Blaine LeCesne, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who has followed the case. BP says in a statement that it is simply informing its employees, shareholders and the general public that while it remains committed to paying legitimate claims arising from the 2010 disaster, it shouldn't have...

Experts say operators 'lucky' blown-out well sealed itself

Natural gas stopped flowing from a runaway well located about 55 miles south of Grand Isle on Thursday after sediment in the well blocked the uncontrolled flow. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says the well "bridged over," meaning small pieces of sediment and sand flowed into the well path, restricting the flow and countering the pressure. "They are lucky," Bud Danenberger, a consultant and former chief of offshore regulatory programs at the Minerals Management Service—which has now been reorganized into the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement—tells The Houston Chronicle. "What really happened is that natural sediment flowed into the well bore and essentially blocked the flow." Danenberger says that about one-third of all blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1950s have stopped themselves without human intervention, either by bridging or a combination of bridging and the natural slowdown of the flow. "It is fairly common," he says.

Fire out at natural gas well off Louisiana coast

A fire on a drilling rig that raged after a natural gas well blew out of control in the Gulf is no longer burning, officials confirmed this morning, just hours after confirming gas had stopped flowing from the well. The well, which had been spewing gas since early Tuesday, became blocked by undersea sand and sediment, essentially snuffing itself out, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says in a news release issued today. Residual gas had continued to feed flames, but the Coast Guard and a spokesman for oil and gas producer Walter Oil & Gas, Brian Kennedy, confirms to The Associated Press the fire was out late this morning. Experts have thus far said the environmental impact is expected to be limited—and have been saying as much since even before the well was blocked. But the well must still be secured to ensure it doesn't start leaking again, and exactly how that will be done was not immediately clear this afternoon. Some of the decisions may depend on what type...

Gulf rig partially collapses off Louisiana coast

A shallow-water Gulf drilling rig about 55 miles off the coast of Grand Isle that blew out and caught fire late Tuesday has partially collapsed, U.S. regulators say. The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement tells Reuters that beams supporting the derrick and rig floor on the Hercules Offshore jackup rig have crumpled over the rig structure. A third firefighting vessel was en route to the scene earlier today, though no sheen was seen on the water's surface during flights over the rig conducted this morning, the regulators say. Hercules officials said this morning they were working to plug the well. The company might drill a relief well, which would intersect the ruptured well and provide another avenue for cement to plug it, Hercules says. The fire ignited shortly before 11 p.m. on Tuesday. The Walter Oil & Gas-owned well had ruptured hours earlier as Hercules worked to prepare it for production. The well released natural gas, but no oil, according to BSEE. Privately...

47 rescued from Gulf rig after well blowout

Natural gas flowed uncontrolled from a well off the Louisiana coast today after a blowout that forced the evacuation of 47 workers from a drilling rig, authorities say. No injuries or fires have been reported. The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said inspectors flying over the site today saw a light sheen covering an area about a half-mile by 50 feet. However, it was said to be dissipating quickly. The bureau says the blowout happened south of Grand Isle, about 55 miles offshore, where the water depth was reported as 154 feet. The blowout occurred near an unmanned offshore gas platform that was not currently producing natural gas, says Eileen Angelico, spokeswoman for the bureau. The workers were aboard a portable drilling rig known as a jackup rig, operated by Hercules Offshore. Hercules says in a news release it was operating the rig for Walter Oil & Gas Corp. A woman who answered the phone at Walter Oil & Gas in Houston told The Associated Press that company...

Judge refuses to suspend BP settlement payments

A federal judge today refused to temporarily shut down a multibillion-dollar settlement program for compensating victims of BP's 2010 Gulf oil spill, saying he has seen no evidence of widespread fraud among the tens of thousands of claims. The judge also says he was offended by what he saw as attempts to smear the lawyer administering the claims. BP argued that all payments to Gulf Coast residents and businesses should be suspended while former FBI Director Louis Freeh investigates alleged misconduct by a lawyer who worked for claims administrator Patrick Juneau on the settlement program. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier says while the allegations are troubling, he doesn't see any reason to take the "drastic step" of shutting down the program without evidence of widespread fraud. Barbier also lashed out at critics who have questioned Juneau's objectivity and have tried to portray the Lafayette-based lawyer as a "good ol' boy" who is beholden to plaintiffs' attorneys. The judge says...

$16 billion worth of additional rigs expected in Gulf by 2015

The deepwater Gulf of Mexico, shut down after BP's record oil spill in 2010, has rebounded to become the fastest-growing offshore market in the world, Bloomberg reports. The number of rigs operating in waters deeper than 1,000 feet in the U.S. Gulf will grow to 60 by the end of 2015, says Brian Uhlmer, an analyst at Global Hunter Securities LLC in Houston. As of last week, there were 36 rigs working in those waters, according to industry researcher IHS Petrodata. Producers will need $16 billion worth of additional rigs to handle the expanded drilling, analysts estimate. While deepwater exploration in the Gulf has been increasing since 2011, the magnitude of the growth and the potential for revenue and profit for the service companies is underappreciated, says Jud Bailey, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group in Houston. Demand is driven in part by exploration successes in the lower tertiary, a geologic layer about 20,000 feet below the sea floor containing...

Judge to hear BP bid to halt claims payouts

A federal judge has scheduled a hearing Friday on BP's bid to temporarily block settlement payments to Gulf Coast businesses and residents who claim they lost money after the company's 2010 oil spill. The hearing is U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s response to a motion filed Tuesday by BP’s lawyers asking for a suspension of payments while former FBI Director Louis Freeh investigates alleged misconduct by a lawyer who helped administer the multibillion-dollar settlement program. Last month, court-appointed claims administrator Patrick Juneau announced that his office is investigating allegations that a former staff attorney, Lionel H. Sutton III, received a portion of settlement proceeds for claims he had referred to a law firm before he started working on the settlement program. Barbier appointed Freeh on July 2 to investigate the allegations and take a broader look at the program. BP argues it shouldn't be required to take the risk that hundreds of millions of dollars...

Second victim dies after blast at Geismar plant

Authorities say a second victim has died following an explosion at a south Louisiana chemical plant. Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain says 47-year-old Scott Thrower of St. Amant died today at Baton Rouge General Hospital. Another worker, 29-year-old Zachary Green, died in Thursday's explosion at the plant owned by Williams Companies Inc. Williams officials and a spokesman for the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration say the cause of the blast wasn't immediately known, but the FBI ruled out terrorism. OSHA is investigating the blast and fire. Alan Armstrong, the company's president and CEO, says it's unclear when plant operations will resume. Louisiana's health department says 88 people were evaluated at hospitals after the explosion and at least 81 had been released by this morning. More than 300 people were evacuated from the site Thursday, but some stayed behind, officials say. Ten workers stayed in an explosive-proof control center as the fire...

News alert: Deceased identified after chemical plant explosion

Louisiana State Police have identified the person who was killed today in a chemical plant explosion at the Geismar facility owned by The Williams Companies, based in Tulsa, Okla. Zachary Green, 29, of Hammond, died in the blast. Troopers and company representatives have notified Green's next of kin. State Police have opened most roads in the area surrounding the affected plant. The section of La. 3115 between La. 30 and La. 75 near the plant remains closed as emergency personnel continue to investigate this morning's incident.

'Mass hysteria' follows explosion at Geismar

Details continue to emerge following this morning's ground-rattling explosion and major fire at a Geismar chemical plant, and the reported number of resulting injuries continues to climb. The Houston Chronicle reports one person died while dozens more have been injured. A previous wire report said at least two people had been killed.At least 37 people were taken to area hospitals by helicopter or ambulance, and another 24 with minor injuries were taken to a hospital by school bus, Clay Henry of Acadian Ambulance Service tells The Associated Press. State police Capt. Doug Cain confirms one body was found by hazardous materials crews going through the aftermath of the blast at the facility owned by The Williams Companies, based in Tulsa, Okla. The plant is in a sparsely populated area about 20 miles from Baton Rouge, with few homes nearby. Cain says it was unlikely anyone lived...

Injuries reported after Geismar plant explosion

Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain confirms injuries were sustained at a Geismar olefins plant following an explosion and fire this morning. Cain says he doesn't know how many people were hurt in the incident at The Williams Companies Inc. plant, but that he has seen ambulances taking "a couple folks" from the Ascension Parish plant near the Iberville Parish line. The plant is located near the intersection of Louisiana highways 30 and 3115. The Tulsa, Okla.-based company's website says the plant annually puts out about 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene. The Times-Picayune reports the explosion was reported just after 8:30 a.m., and that as of 9:30 a.m., Louisiana highways 74, 30 and 3115 were all closed due to the explosion, which state police described as a "haz-mat incident." Plants around the area were reportedly being evacuated.

Cleanup work after BP oil spill continues in La., ends in 3 states

BP says the Coast Guard has concluded "active cleanup operations" from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, but the work continues along 84 miles of Louisiana's shoreline. The cleanup by BP contractors ended Friday in Alabama, on June 1 in Florida, and on May 1 in Mississippi, according to company spokesman Jason Ryan. The Coast Guard will continue responding to reports of oil washing up anywhere along the Gulf Coast. BP says it will take responsibility for removing any oil that came from its blown-out Macondo well, adding that it has spent more than $14 billion on response and cleanup activities, with more than 48,000 people involved in those efforts at the height of the spill's aftermath. Teams surveyed nearly 4,000 miles of shoreline after the spill, according to the British oil giant, identifying roughly 1,100 miles affected by oil and 778 miles that needed to be cleaned.

Lightning possible culprit in oil tank explosion

Investigators suspect lightning may have sparked an oil tank explosion in Denham Springs that led to the evacuation of about 30 homes late Thursday. Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Mark Harrell says the cause of the blast is still under investigation today by the state fire marshal's office. But he tells The Associated Press that residents of the neighborhood saw lightning just before the explosion late Thursday at a storage facility. No injuries were reported. Plano, Texas-based Denbury Resources Inc. owns the facility where the tanks are located.

No injuries reported following overnight oil tank explosion

As of this morning, no injuries have been reported following an overnight explosion of an oil tank in the Denham Springs area, The Associated Press reports. The occupants of about 30 to 35 homes in the area of the explosion were evacuated as emergency rescue responders worked to contain fire at the site. Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Mark Harrell tells The Times-Picayune that one of two oil holding tanks at the scene ruptured and caught fire. He says it wasn't known why the tank ruptured. The second oil tank had not exploded but was bulging from the heat. Harrell says the fire has been contained in a 200-square-foot area. He added that evacuated residents will be allowed to return to their homes once the fire is out.

Katrina hero undertaking residential development in B.R.

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, best known for his role in coordinating relief efforts along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, is taking his career in a new direction: speculative home building. The 65-year-old Honoré, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2008, has formed a new venture—Mid City Development—and will begin construction next month on four homes on a lot he bought in 2012 on College Drive near Jefferson Highway. Honoré says he did not intend to get into the residential construction business. For the past several years, most of his time has been spent giving speeches and doing consulting. However, he purchased the College Drive lot hoping to sell it, but after six months decided a better idea would be to redevelop the property—with the help of his brother-in-law, contractor David Darensbourg. "We decided the best way to do it is to put a concept design in for four houses, and if they complement each other they'll sell better," Honoré says. "I think the future...

Holden defends hiring Florida firm in BP suit

Mayor Kip Holden is defending a contract that his chief administrative officer, William Daniel, signed with a Florida law firm to represent the city-parish in a claim against BP regarding the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Some Metro Council members are questioning the deal because the firm, Farrell and Patel of Coral Gables, Fla., will get 40% of any money it recovers from claims of lost revenues as a result of the spill. "We didn't go out hunting for this firm," Holden tells Daily Report. "They came to us and said, 'This money is out there. … Are you interested in trying to get it?' Our answer was yes." Some council members have suggested local law firms would charge much less on a contingency basis than 40%. But Holden says out-of-state firms are involved in a variety of class action suits in the state, including the multibillion-dollar tobacco litigation. What's more, he says, "If local law firms knew about the potential of recovering money from BP, why didn't they call us?"...

BP's profit triples in 1Q, but Gulf oil spill liabilities remain uncertain

British oil giant BP says its first-quarter profit nearly tripled as it recorded a big gain from the sale of its 50% stake in a Russian joint venture. The company has reported its profit attributable to BP shareholders for the three months ended March 31 was $16.86 billion, compared to a profit of $5.77 billion a year earlier. Revenue in the quarter rose 10% to $107.21 billion, compared to $97.42 billion a year earlier. BP completed the sale of its interest in TNK-BP to Rosneft on March 21, for a total of $27.5 billion in cash and Rosneft shares. The gain on the sale was $15.5 billion for BP. As for its continuing liability from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP says its total cumulative charge for the disaster remained at $42.2 billion at the end of the January-March quarter. There persists significant uncertainty, however, about what its total financial exposure will be, BP says. The first phase of a civil trial in federal court in New Orleans ended earlier this month. The...

Anadarko seeks dismissal of investor suit over Gulf spill

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a partner in the BP well that was the source of the largest U.S. offshore oil spill, is set to ask a federal judge in Texas to throw out a lawsuit claiming the company misled investors about the project's risks before and after the blowout, Bloomberg reports. Investors accused Anadarko, which held a 25% interest in BP's Macondo well, of understating its role in the project and falsely claiming it faced minimal financial liability from the 2010 blowout off the Louisiana coast. The securities-fraud suit, filed as a class action, seeks recovery of billions of dollars of lost share value resulting from the spill. A nonjury trial over liability for the incident concluded last week in New Orleans. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will determine fault for the incident and decide whether BP or its contractors were grossly negligent, which could trigger higher damages or fines. Barbier says he won't issue an immediate decision. Anadarko wasn't part of the liability...