VENICE, La., June 16 (UPI) -- BP said Wednesday it has brought a second containment system up to capture oil gushing from the destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
The second system, which carries oil and gas to a clean-burning Q4000 Direct Connect vessel, supplements the lower marine riser package cap containment system, which shut down for five hours Tuesday following a lightning strike. The announcement came as BP executives met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
The Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. It sank two days later and has since been spewing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day -- the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every four days. The leak, nearly a mile below the surface, is the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The second containment system began operations at 1 a.m. CDT and efforts are under way to stabilize and optimize it, BP said on its Web site. From noon to midnight Tuesday, 10,440 barrels of oil were captured and 25.1 million cubic feet of gas were flared, BP said. The second containment system is expected to add to those figures. Since containment operations began, 160,400 barrels of oil have been collected.
The spill has proved a threat to the gulf fishing industry. The federal government seized about 19,000 pounds of shrimp caught in an area closed to fishing because of the oil spill, about 13 miles south of Belle Pass, La., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday in a release. The fishing haul was seized during the weekend after NOAA received a tip.
Federal officials said 78,264 square miles -- approximately 32 percent -- of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico have been closed to commercial and recreational fishing as a precaution to ensure seafood from the gulf is safe for consumers. The closures don't apply to state waters.
Environmental Protection Agency officials said they found elevated levels of nickel above benchmark levels for aquatic life, which could affect fish and shellfish exposed for an extended period. However, the EPS said it was unlikely the contamination was caused by the BP spill.
On the economic front, The Small Business Administration said it had approved 66 economic injury assistance loans to date, totaling more than $3.9 million for Gulf Coast small businesses affected by the BP oil spill. Additionally, SBA officials said they've granted deferments on 386 existing SBA disaster loans in the region.
President Obama signed into law Tuesday an amendment to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that authorizes advances from Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for the oil spill. The U.S. Coast Guard now is authorized to obtain multiple advances of up to $100 million each from the fund to help underwrite the federal response. The total amount of all advances can't exceed $1 billion, the incident cap under current law, the White House said.