+ BP expects to have the well completely sealed by this weekend.
+ The company announced the end of the Vessels of Opportunity program, in which local boaters and fishermen were employed to help contain the spill and clean up the oil, in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.
+ The Interior Department has ordered drilling companies to cap all idle wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
+ Some observers say waning interest in the spill hurts Charlie Crist’s election chances.
+ BP denied Alabama’s claim for spill damages after the state sued the company.
+ The Department of Labor has provided a $2.5 million grant to help Western Panhandle residents cope with job losses.
+ The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is giving banks a break on loan losses caused by the spill, and asking them to be lenient to customers in turn.
+ Florida Realtors are questioning whether they got paid enough by the separate compensation vehicle Kenneth Feinberg set up for their industry.
+ A judge overseeing some of the spill litigation said he expects BP to face thousands of lawsuits.
Checking the feds’ oil spill math
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has filed a lawsuit looking to find out how and why the government initially low-balled its estimates of the size of the oil spill.
At the height of the spill, 62,000 barrels of oil gushed from the hole daily, the federal government flow rate team concluded in August. That’s a far cry from BP’s first estimate—1,000 barrels—and from the government’s first initial estimate of just 5,000 barrels per day. They later increased the official estimate to 12,000 to 19,000 at the end of May.
The suit aims to find out where those numbers came from, and why they weren’t qualified with phrases such as “at least” or “lower bound estimates.”
A number of groups, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Greenpeace, and the Center for Biological Diversity have sought the technical documents and correspondence related to the flow rate, to no avail. While some related documents are posted on the USGS site, Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, says the government has been “stalling us for the last couple months” on specific documents and is just posting “filler” online. “We’re looking for information about what was shared with the public, what wasn’t, and why,” said Ruch.
Feinberg making changes
ProPublica examines some of the problems with Kenneth Feinberg’s oil spill claims process, and his plans for fixing them, including one fix, called for recently by Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Alex Sink: hiring more claims adjusters.
Feinberg told us that he has kept the roughly 1,500 adjusters working in the Gulf from the Worley company (which was initially contracted by BP), but that he had added a final stop that claims must pass through before approval. “The last stop on the claims process is in Washington, D.C.,” Feinberg said. “All claims must go through this hub to ensure consistency. There are 25 employees in my office reviewing and finalizing claims.”
Feinberg said that adding more employees in the Washington would result in less consistency in payments, and that he was not considering hiring more there. If anything, Feinberg said that he would decrease the number of adjusters he has working in the Gulf as the volume of claims eases. “I’m comfortable with the staffing situation,” Feinberg said. “I’ve concluded that you reach a point of diminishing returns. I’m trying to improve efficiency.”