BP executive faces Florida cabinet
Senior Vice President Bob Fryar took part in a Florida cabinet meeting Tuesday, and received a public verbal flogging:

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who requested that BP’s chief executive appear before the Cabinet, chastised Fryar for the burdensome claims process and the meager payments to businesses trying to recover their losses.”Do you know what they call the $5,000 checks they’re getting?” she asked, referring to the monthly checks business owners can collect as they await reimbursement for larger losses. “They call it shut up money.”

Trouble blow the surface
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed for the first time Tuesday the existence of giant underwater plumes of oil:

The tests, the first detailed chemical analyses of water from the deep sea, show that some of the most toxic components of the oil are not necessarily rising to the surface where they can evaporate, as would be expected in a shallow oil leak. Instead, they are drifting through deep water in plumes or layers that stretch as far as 50 miles from the leaking well.

As a rule, the toxic compounds are present at exceedingly low concentrations, the tests found, as would be expected given that they are being diluted in an immense volume of seawater.

Univeristy of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye was part of the team that first reported the toxic plumes.

One big unknown, she says, is how chemical dispersants that are being injected into the leaking oil to break it up will affect phytoplankton and other organisms at the bottom of the food chain. In fact, it’s possible – but difficult to prove at this point – that the dispersants and oil are already killing phytoplankton, which could account for low oxygen levels recorded in near-surface waters.

And the oil and dispersants are likely to be around for a while yet: a seasonal change in surface current flows – from north-east to south-west – that takes effect in August means the mix will continue sloshing around the gulf rather than be pushed out into the open ocean.

Meanwhile, University of South Florida scientists confirmed that oil has been found as far as 142 miles from the Deepwater Horizon site, and even off the southern tip of Florida.

Scientists will try to confirm its origin by “fingerprinting” the oil, or chemically matching it to BP’s oil. That task has been hampered by a BP official’s refusal to provide scientists with a sample of its oil, Hollander said.

All told, the spill has proved vexing for government scientists.

Officials said that a cap placed over the leak on the gulf floor collected about 14,800 barrels, or 620,000 gallons, in the 24-hour period ending at midnight Monday. But that good news was also bad news.

Since oil was still flowing out around the cap, it showed that the government’s latest estimate of the leak’s total size, 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, was probably too low. Scientists were told to recalculate their figures.

Plight of the pelicans
The spill threatens brown pellicans during nesting season. The birds had just been removed from the endangered species list. Workers are scambling to get the birds cleaned up and away from the oil.

The federal government has just started releasing some of the cleaned birds off the coast of Florida. It hopes the parents do not try to fly back to their nests in Louisiana’s oily waters.

High stakes: Oil spill workers are fighting for Florida’s future, the St. Petersburg Times argues in an editorial.

Going backwards: Sen. Lindsey Graham withdraws his support for climate change legislation, citing the removal of provisions expanding offshore oil drilling.

Spill bill: House Speaker Nancy Pellosi says she wants to pass a “meaningful” legislative response to the spill.

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