The Gulf of Mexico is awash in oil, and we’re awash in media reports. BP and various government agencies are gushing with press releases. This is the first installment of a new feature where we’ll sift through the day’s developments and figure out what really mattered.

Crist lifts fishing restrictions
Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order allowing people to fish in Florida’s oceans without a license for Memorial Day weekend and the weekend after (June 5 and 6), the first weekend of red snapper season in the gulf. The move is intended “to help draw visitors to the beautiful beaches of the Sunshine State,” according to a press release from his office, the latest in a series of efforts to overcome misperceptions that oil has reached Florida’s beaches.

WSJ: BP cut corners
The Wall Street Journal provides a more complete account of BP’s actions during the weeks leading up to the oil spill. Several decisions that saved time and money may have crucially compromised the safety of the rig.

BP, for instance, cut short a procedure involving drilling fluid that is designed to detect gas in the well and remove it before it becomes a problem, according to documents belonging to BP and to the drilling rig’s owner and operator, Transocean Ltd.

BP also skipped a quality test of the cement around the pipe—another buffer against gas—despite what BP now says were signs of problems with the cement job and despite a warning from cement contractor Halliburton Co.

Once gas was rising, the design and procedures BP had chosen for the well likely gave this perilous gas an easier path up and out, say well-control experts. There was little keeping the gas from rushing up to the surface after workers, pushing to finish the job, removed a critical safeguard, the heavy drilling fluid known as “mud.” BP has admitted a possible “fundamental mistake” in concluding that it was safe to proceed with mud removal, according to a memo from two Congressmen released Tuesday night.

The Journal report buttresses earlier assertions, including those of former BP consultant Bob Bay, that the disaster in the gulf may have been preventable, and could lend new credence to Sen. Bill Nelson’s contentions that oil industry regulation has been overly lax and “incestuous.”

Has the oil been stopped? We’ll find out this weekend.
The oil spewing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico may have been “steamed” by drilling fluid — a mixture of heavy mud and chemicals pumped into the hole by BP. But BP CEO Tony Hayward has yet to declare victory.

On CNN Friday, Mr. Hayward said it would be at least 48 hours before the success of the effort could be fully assessed, but he acknowledged that much damage had already been done.

“This is clearly an environmental catastrophe,” he said. “There is no two ways about it.” The effort to plug the well has proceeded in fits and starts. BP officials, who along with government officials created the impression early Thursday that the strategy was working, disclosed later that they had stopped pumping on Wednesday night when engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid was escaping along with the oil.

“An opportunity for change?”
Over at The Washington Post, Kate Shepard ponders whether the spill could trigger new environmental action by Congress.

With new figures on the spill size out yesterday, we now know that the gulf gusher has created the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It dwarfs the two previous spills of record, the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the Santa Barbara spill in 1969. It might even make the list of the worst oil spills in world history. (The fact that it might not is perhaps the most frightening aspect.)

Accordingly, public concern about the environment has made a sharp upward turn in the weeks since the gulf spill. Unless you’re a Republican, in which case it hasn’t.

“Historically, environmental disasters have been an impetus for landmark environmental legislation,” she notes. “The gulf spill offers an opportunity to do that again. Action is in the Senate’s hands, but Americans have to demand it.”

[Pic via]

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