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Jun 22, 2010 12:46 PM by Melissa Canone

Head of Spill Claims Back to Gulf

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The man in charge of a $20 billion fund to
compensate people whose livelihoods have been ruined by the Gulf of
Mexico oil spill headed back to the coast Tuesday to talk with
officials about the claims process.
Kenneth Feinberg, tapped by the White House to run the fund, has
pledged to speed payments to fishermen, business owners and others
who have lost money. He was set to meet with Alabama Gov. Bob Riley
in Mobile on Tuesday afternoon.
"We want to get these claims out quicker," he said a day
earlier. "We want to get these claims out with more
transparency."
Feinberg is no stranger to disasters - he ran the claim fund for
victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said BP has
already paid out more than $100 million to spill victims. Claims
total about $600 million so far.
BP said this week it has spent $2 billion fighting the spill,
with no end in sight. It's likely to be at least August before
crews finish two relief wells that are the best chance of stopping
the oil. Scientists estimate the blown-out well has gushed anywhere
from 67 million to 127 millions gallons of oil into the Gulf.
In the meantime, a containment device is sucking up some of the
oil gushing from the well. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Tuesday
that it had collected nearly 1.1 million gallons in 24 hours, a new
record.
No one knows exactly how much oil is spilling, but BP hopes to
contain as much as 90 percent of it over the next few weeks. The
current worst-case estimate is about 2.5 million gallons a day.
BP PLC was leasing the Deepwater Horizon rig from Transocean
Ltd. when it exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. President
Barack Obama's administration responded by imposing a six-month
moratorium on deepwater drilling.
No new permits are being approved and drilling at 33 exploratory
wells has been suspended.
Transocean president Steve Newman sharply criticized the ban at
an oil industry conference in London on Tuesday. BP CEO Tony
Heyward skipped the gathering to focus on the spill response after
he was slammed for taking a break over the weekend to attend a
yacht race in England.
Newman told reporters that there were things the Obama
administration "could implement today that would allow the
industry to go back to work tomorrow without an arbitrary six-month
time limit."
Federal Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans is considering
whether to lift the moratorium and said he will decide by
Wednesday.
Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La., claims in a
lawsuit that the government arbitrarily imposed the moratorium
without any proof that the operations posed a threat. Hornbeck,
which ferries people and supplies to offshore rigs, says it could
cost Louisiana thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost
wages.
"This is an unprecedented industrywide shutdown. Never before
has the government done this," plaintiffs attorney Carl Rosenblum
said during a two-hour hearing Monday.
Government lawyers said the Interior Department has demonstrated
industry regulators need more time to study the risks of deepwater
drilling and identify ways to make it safer.
"The safeguards and regulations in place on April 20 did not
create a sufficient margin of safety," said Justice Department
attorney Guillermo Montero.
Feldman asked a government lawyer why the Interior Department
decided to suspend deepwater drilling after the rig explosion when
it didn't bar oil tankers from Alaskan waters after the Exxon
Valdez spill in 1989 or take similar actions in the wake of other
industrial accidents.
"The Deepwater Horizon blowout was a game-changer," Montero
said. "It really illustrates the risks that are inherent in
deepwater drilling."

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