deepwater-susnsetFirst the good news. BP says its “static kill” on its Macondo well has succeeded so far, describing the moment as a “significant milestone”.

The “static kill”, which started yesterday, involved pumping heavy drilling mud from the top of the well slowly down, pushing the oil back down into the reservoir.

The oil was stopped after eight hours of pumping. Now we just have to wait to see if the kill is permanent.

If the kill really has worked, for the residents of the Gulf, and its ecosystem it really is a significant milestone.

The other good news for BP – and these findings are going to be controversial – is that the New York Times is reporting that an estimated three-quarters of the oil from the leak “has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm. “

The government scientists are arguing that:

  • 17 per cent of the oil has been removed;
  • 5 per cent was burnt;
  • 3 per cent skimmed;
  • 25 per cent evaporated or dissolved;
  • 16 per cent dispersed;
  • 8 per cent broken down by dispersants;
  • 26 per cent is still at large on shore or sea.

However, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the lead agency in producing the new report was at pains to emphasise that the government remained concerned about the ecological damage that has already occurred and the potential for more.  “I think we don’t know yet the full impact of this spill on the ecosystem or the people of the gulf.”

Among the biggest unanswered questions is how much damage the oil has done to the eggs and larvae of organisms like fish, crabs and shrimp, something I pointed out yesterday.

But its not all good news for BP – today there are Congressional hearings into dispersant use on Capital Hill, with some scientists continuing to argue that dispersant use caused more harm than good.

Ron Kendall, a toxicologist from Texas Tech University will tell the Senate hearing that the unprecedented use of dispersants “created an eco-toxicological experiment”.

Kendall’s view differs from the official government line. “The bottom line is that a lot of oil is still at sea dispersed in the water column” he argues. “It’s a big ecological question as to how this will ultimately unfold.”

The Guardian also reports this morning that the Obama administration is “facing internal dissent from its scientists for approving the use of huge quantities of chemical dispersants to tackle the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico”.

Jeff Ruch, the exective director of the whistleblower support group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told the paper he had heard from five scientists and two other officials who had expressed concerns to their superiors about the use of dispersants.

“There was one toxicologist who was very concerned about the underwater application particularly,” he said. “The concern was the agency appeared to be flying blind and not consulting its own specialists and even the literature that was available.”

The other bad news for BP is that the extent of legal action against the company is becoming clear. Yesterday’s announcement of the most recent estimate of the spill, at 4.9m barrels, has provided the first glimpse of the battleground over official penalties.

If the company is found to have been negligent, it could face a $20 billion or so fine under the Clean Water Act.  However BP could also face charges under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Endangered Species Act, the Refuse Act and other “traditional” criminal statutes, says the US Justice department.

And finally, BP’s Texas refinery has reared its ugly head again. This is the same refinery where 15 people were killed in explosion in 2005.

The company has now been hit by a further $10 billion lawsuit over an alleged leak of toxic chemicals at the refinery.  Tony Buzbee, a Texas lawyer also representing Gulf residents affected by the spill, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 2,000 claimants linked to an incident in April and May.

Mr Buzbee told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that his clients were seeking compensation for “health effects including all symptoms associated with acute benzene exposure”.

One thing is certain in this time of hardship for many, for BP’s lawyers there is plenty of work about..