HOUSTON/WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) – BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) said on Wednesday it had reinstalled an oil-siphoning cap on its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico and resumed collecting crude while the Obama administration appealed a court ruling that blocked its six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.
As the high-stakes dramas unfolded, the political risks from the disaster were underscored by a new poll that showed President Barack Obama’s job performance rating has dropped to the lowest level of his presidency.
The worst spill in U.S. history has been thrust to the top of Obama’s crowded domestic agenda but the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found half of those surveyed disapproved of his handling of the spill.
Overall Obama’s rating stood at 45 percent in the poll, down 5 points from early last month. For the first time in the survey, more people, or 48 percent, say they disapprove of his job performance.
The administration sought to keep its key responses to the catastrophe in play as it appealed the ruling to lift the deepwater drilling ban after a judge said it was too far-reaching and not adequately justified despite the spill.
The government also asked District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans to put his ruling against the moratorium on hold pending the outcome of the appeal or until the appeals court can consider a request for a stay.
The Justice Department said in the court filing that the temporary moratorium only affected 33 active deepwater drills in the Gulf of Mexico and the harm from another potential oil spill.
In addition to the appeal, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would revise his original order suspending drilling below 500 feet of sea level (152 meters) to make it more flexible and thus address the court’s concerns.
The government imposed a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling after an offshore rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and rupturing BP’s well. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ For full coverage link.reuters.com/hed87k Breakingviews [ID:nLDE65M0H5] Insider TV link.reuters.com/jav43m Graphics link.reuters.com/qam39k Special Report: Wall Street touted BP
Oil gushed largely unchecked from the well after an undersea robot collided with a system intended to capture some of the gushing crude.
BP reinstalled the critical containment cap after several hours and the it resumed oil and gas at 2000 EDT on Wednesday (0000 GMT Thursday).
The cap system installed on June 3 captured 16,600 barrels on Tuesday, BP said. A separate oil-flaring system that collected 10,500 barrels is still operating. A team of U.S. scientists estimate the leak is spewing between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day.
OIL COATS PENSACOLA BEACH
The spreading oil slick has shut down rich fishing grounds, killed hundreds of turtles and seabirds and dozens of dolphins and soiled the coastlines of four U.S. states.
Florida saw its worst effect yet from the spill as thick oily sludge washed ashore on Pensacola Beach.
Emergency workers said the pudding-like mixture covered three miles (5 km) of Pensacola Beach, a barrier island that is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
“It’s just a line of black all the way down the beach as far as you can see in both directions. It’s ruined,” said Pensacola fisherman Steve Anderson.
The disaster and scathing criticism from the government and U.S. lawmakers has fueled investor fears about BP’s future and its stock has tumbled since the April 20 spill, losing half its value and trading at levels not seen since 1996.
New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the state pension fund planned to sue to recover losses from the drop in BP’s stock. Other big U.S. state funds are watching New York’s lawsuit but have not yet taken legal action.
“BP misled investors about its safety procedures and its ability to respond to events like the ongoing oil spill and we’re going to hold it accountable,” said DiNapoli, a Democrat, who will stand for election in November.
BP’s share price fall has led some major investors, including Aviva Investors and UBS Asset Management, to start buying again, despite worries about the oil giant’s total liabilities related to the spill. [ID:nN23216964]
Under the Clean Water Act, which levies a $4,300 per barrel fine, BP could face penalties of more than $15 billion. That does not include the $20 billion compensation fund it agreed to last week or the many billions of dollars in criminal fines that analysts have said are likely.
According to U.S. government estimates, up to 4 million barrels of oil have spewed into the ocean since April 20, about 15 times as much as was spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. BP said it has collected about 325,700 barrels.
Workers at a bird cleaning facility in Fort Jackson, Louisiana were collecting blood and feather samples as evidence of environmental damage that could be used in possible lawsuits against BP.
“Most spills are over really quick, but this is like a new spill everyday. It’s really discouraging,” said Jay Holcomb, director of the International Bird Rescue Center. (Additional reporting by Tom Doggett and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington, Chris Baltimore in Houston, Ben Gruber in Florida and Ernest Scheyder in Fort Jackson, Louisiana; Writing by Ed Stoddard and Ross Colvin; Editing by Chris Wilson)