Gulf of Mexico oil spill: US suspends drilling in Arctic Ocean

The Obama administration is suspending proposed exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean in order to prevent a repeat of the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster.


Oil from BP’s leaking rig burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico Photo: Sipa Press / Rex Features

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says in a report to be delivered to the White House later today that he will not consider applications for permits to drill in the Arctic until 2011. Shell Oil is poised to begin exploratory drilling this summer on leases as far as 140 miles offshore. An administration official familiar with the plan said Mr Salazar wants to allow further study of proposed drilling technology and oil spill response capabilities in Arctic waters. Mr Salazar has said he wants to take a cautious approach in the Arctic.

President Barack Obama ordered Mr Salazar to conduct a review of the nation’s offshore oil drilling safety after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last month.

In March, Mr Obama and Mr Salazar cancelled a planned 2011 lease sale in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where oil development was proposed by the Bush administration. They cancelled four scheduled lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and said no additional leases would be offered there until more scientific data was collected.

An administration official said Mr Salazar believes that fisheries, tourism and environmental values in Bristol Bay make the area inappropriate for oil and gas drilling.

Shell, which has leases in both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, had sought to begin drilling five exploratory wells in those areas this summer. Mr Salazar’s announcement means those wells will not be considered until 2011.

Mr Salazar also is directing the US Geological Survey to conduct an independent evaluation of oil spill risks and spill response capabilities in the state.

Shell Oil, the U.S. arm of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, has the backing of Alaska’s political leaders. With few exceptions, they support offshore drilling, a stance articulated by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP nominee for vice president.

BP calls in Costner’s $26m vacuum cleaners to mop up huge oil spill

The ‘Waterworld’ star has spent 15 years developing device to separate oil from sea water and it is now being put to work

By Guy Adams in Los Angeles – REUTERS


Kevin Costner in a scene from his 1995 film Waterworld. Now he’s trying to avert a real-life crisis

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So with hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico each day, and its corporate image starting to resemble the tar-covered sea creatures now washing on to Louisiana’s fragile shoreline, BP has called on Kevin Costner to help stave off environmental Armageddon.

The Hollywood star has been bobbing around the Mississippi Delta helping representatives of the British oil firm and US coastguard test-drive a stainless steel device called the Ocean Therapy. In a claim which sounds as unlikely as the plot premise of Waterworld, he says it can quickly and efficiently clean oil from tainted sea water.

Bizarrely, Costner may be on to something. The actor has spent 15 years and roughly $26m (£18m) of his personal fortune developing the patented machine with the help of his elder brother Dan, a scientist. It works like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up dirty liquid and then using a high-speed centrifuge to separate it into oil, and heavier water.

When he allowed the local media to see Ocean Therapy in action – albeit on dry land – it appeared to work as advertised. Yesterday, six of the devices were attached to boats and floated into the Gulf, so the organisers of the clean-up operation could see whether they might also be capable of functioning on the high seas.

“This is a technology that we know works, and has worked for a long time,” Costner said, adding that 26 of the machines are now in Louisiana ready to be put into action. “I’m just really happy that the light of day has come to this, and I’m very sad about why it is. But this is why it was developed, and like anything that we all face, as a group, we face it together.”

Costner, 55, has quietly been developing Ocean Therapy since the mid-1990s when he founded the Costner Industries Nevada Corporation, a company which funded eco-friendly research by his brother and a team of scientists. Aside from the water cleaning device, the firm has also invented a non-chemical battery.

Each of the 26 Heath Robinson-style machines now in Louisiana waiting to be deployed can clean between 5 and 200 gallons of water a minute, depending on its size, said Costner’s lawyer and business partner, John Houghtaling, which means they could in theory mop up oil at the rate it is currently gushing into the Gulf. Polluted sea water which passes through them comes out 97 per cent clean.

“Kevin saw the Exxon Valdez spill, and as a fisherman and an environmentalist, it just stuck in his craw, the fact that we didn’t have separation technology,” said Houghtaling. “Kevin wrote all the checks for this project. This was one man’s vision. Sometimes it takes a star to come in with their money and time to make a difference.”

BP was cautiously optimistic about the machines, saying they could provide a valuable tool in the armoury of clean-up workers, provided they “meet regulations with regard to discharge”. The firm could certainly use some good news: a warm ocean current is now transporting the slick from the ruined Deepwater Horizon rig towards the coast of Florida. Roughly six million gallons of oil have already washed into the Gulf, and is starting to hit the fragile coastal swamps of Louisiana, which are home to an array of rare birds and mammals.

In Washington, BP is being accused of underestimating the scale of the leak in an effort to protect its reputation. The firm originally said that 1,000 barrels of oil were spilling each day, but later increased that figure to 5,000. Many scientists believe the real figure is higher still.

Amid growing political pressure, BP has agreed to allow live underwater footage of oil billowing into the ocean to be screened online. Although one relief well was drilled last week, and is said to be capturing 200,000 gallons of oil a day, the firm now admits that it could take until August to plug the leak.

Costner isn’t the only Hollywood star taking an interest in the disaster. The Avatar director James Cameron has offered to make his collection of submarines available to clean-up teams, while Robert Redford is starring in a TV ad sponsored by the Natural Resources Defence Council, which uses the spill to call for the US government to promote clean energy.

Aliens ‘hijack’ Nasa’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, claims expert

Aliens have hijacked a Nasa spacecraft and are using it to try to contact earth, a UFO expert has claimed.

Hartwig Hausdorf, a German academic, believes that the reason Voyager 2, an unmanned probe that has been in space since 1977, is sending strange messages that are confusing scientists, is because it has been taken over by extraterrestrial life.

Since its launch, Voyager 2 has been sending streams of data back to Earth for study by scientists, but on April 22, 2010, that stream of information suddenly changed.

Nasa claimed that a software problem with the flight data system was the cause but Mr Hausdorf believes it could be the work of aliens.

This is because all other parts of the spacecraft appear to be functioning fine.

He told the German newspaper Bild: “It seems almost as if someone has reprogrammed or hijacked the probe – thus perhaps we do not yet know the whole truth.”

Voyager 2 carries a disk with greetings in 55 languages on it in case the craft encounters other life forms.

Dr Edward Stone, a scientist on the project, said the desk, called the Golden Record, is “a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.

“The Voyager message is carried by a phonograph record-a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.”