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July 2, 2010 at 10:00 PM   |   Comments

'Bouncing' well cap reducing oil recovery

VENICE, La., July 2 (UPI) -- A cap on the leaking Gulf of Mexico undersea well may be bouncing around in the water, resulting in the capture of less oil in the past few days, officials say.

Officials have noted a slight drop-off in how much oil has been collected in recent days, CNN reported Friday. Thursday's total oil recovered was approximately 25,150 barrels.

High winds were causing the cap's "wobble," BP spokesman Mark Proegler said, noting forecasters expected the rough waters to calm during the weekend.

There were indications less oil was being captured, said Steven Wereley, a member of the Flow Rate Technical Group, which is gathering scientific information about how much oil is spilling into the gulf.

The spill may have become the largest peacetime discharge of oil into the world's waters, spill estimates indicate. USA Today reported Friday it estimates about 164 million gallons of oil will have entered gulf waters by Monday, not including approximately 1 million gallons a day being siphoned to the surface for removal.

The estimate is based on government reports that oil has spewed into the gulf at up to 2.5 million gallons a day.

The largest peacetime spill occurred in the gulf in 1979 when the Ixtoc I well off the Mexican coast blew out and leaked for nine months, discharging about 140 million gallons of oil.

Iraqi troops in 1991 caused the largest spill ever, dumping an estimated 460 million gallons off Kuwait.

"The magnitude of this (gulf) event is beyond anybody's belief," Richard Charter, a marine expert at environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, told USA Today. "It just takes your breath away how much destruction to natural systems is occurring, not only in the marshes where we can see it but in the oceans where we can't see it."

Businesses offering equipment and services to help clean up the spill are pleading their case to the media and lawmakers to try to pressure BP into action, expressing frustration at the responses from the energy giant and federal government, The Dallas Morning News reported.

One Dallas investment banker visited cable news shows and went before the Senate Commerce Committee to argue that BP should accept the 25 skimmers and other vessels he got from owners in Greece.

BP officials said the company has tried to keep pace with the thousands of offers that have come in to the company, either directly or through a federal Web site.

Oil has been flowing into the gulf since April 20, when a rig leased by BP exploded, killing 11 workers, and sank two days later.

"I appreciate that some people with products and resources have not been enlisted to participate in the response, but I can provide assurances that we have carefully looked at them when offered," BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said. "Not everything that comes to us can be used for a variety of reasons."


McConnell, Hatch to vote no on Kagan

WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- Two top Senate Republicans said Friday they will vote against the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said they will vote against Kagan, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Hatch voted to confirm Kagan as solicitor general in 2009 but said in a statement Friday he was unsure whether she would put her personal views ahead of the law as a Supreme Court justice, The Hill reported.

"The law must control the judge; the judge must not control the law," Hatch said. "I have concluded that, based on evidence rather than blind faith, General Kagan regrettably does not meet this standard and that, therefore, I cannot support her appointment."

"I do not have confidence that if she were confirmed to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court she would suddenly constrain the ardent political advocacy that has marked much of her adult life," McConnell said in a statement posted on his official Web site.

Seven Republicans voted for Kagan's confirmation as solicitor general and few, if any, senators who opposed that nomination are expected to support her lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court, The Washington Post reported Friday. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is considered the only Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee likely to support Kagan, the newspaper said.

When the nomination goes to the full Senate for a vote, Maine's Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, are considered likely to support Kagan, who would be the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Many Republican senators will feel heavy pressure to vote against Obama's choice for the Supreme Court in an election year dominated by an angry electorate fed up with incumbents, The Hill said.


GOP chairman hit for Afghan war comments

NEW YORK, July 2 (UPI) -- Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele came under fire Friday for saying the war in Afghanistan was of President Barack Obama's "choosing."

Steele made the remark Thursday during a speech in Connecticut. He said the United States was on the wrong side of history in the war in Afghanistan, asking, "has (the president) not understood that you know that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?"

Some fellow Republicans have been quick to slam Steele for the latest in a string of controversial remarks during his tenure as chairman, The New York Times reported.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, called for Steele's resignation.

"Your tenure has, of course, been marked by gaffes and embarrassments, but I for one have never paid much attention to them, and have never thought they would matter much to the success of the causes and principles we share," Kristol wrote Friday. "Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not 'a war of Obama's choosing.' It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama.

"There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they're certainly entitled to make their case," Kristol wrote. "But one of them shouldn't be the chairman of the Republican Party."

Amid the criticism, Steele issued a statement Friday saying there is "no question that America must win the war on terror."

"During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy," Steele said in the statement posted on the RNC Web site.

He said history has made it clear winning a war in Afghanistan "is a difficult task" but he said the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made it "a necessary one."

"The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan," Steele said.


Russian 'agents' admit to false identities

NEW YORK, July 2 (UPI) -- Two suspected Russian agents arrested last weekend have waived their Miranda rights and admitted being Russian citizens using false identities, officials said.

Prosecutors say the married couple using the aliases Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills have been living in Arlington, Va., The New York Times reported Friday. Prosecutors allege they are agents of a Russian intelligence service.

Prosecutors said after his arrest "Zottoli" acknowledged to FBI agents he is a Russian citizen named Mikhail Kutzik, and that his father lived in Russia.

"Mills," prosecutors said, admitted she was a Russian citizen named Natalia Pereverzeva and that her parents, brother and sister are still living in Russia.

Prosecutors have asked a judge to deny bail for the two and a third defendant known as Mikhail Semenko.

There was "little doubt that, if released, the conspirators could call upon substantial and sophisticated resources to assist them," prosecutors wrote in a letter to a judge scheduled to hold a bail hearing.

"They are skilled deceivers who have repeatedly betrayed those closest to them and would readily do so again, by fleeing," the letter said.

Prosecutors have not publicly said what they believe Kutzik and Pereverzeva did for the Russians, but said the couple traveled to New York four times to collect money and supplies for their alleged work as clandestine agents for the Russian foreign intelligence service, the Times reported.

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