Marine scientists say the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may be far larger than projected. BP has estimated 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf every day. But a new analysis by a professor at Purdue University estimates the actual leak may be fourteen times larger. Professor Steve Wereley told National Public Radio the oil could be spewing about 70,000 barrels of oil a day — the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez disaster every four days. Wereley’s estimate was based in part on the thirty-second video BP released on Wednesday showing oil gushing from a pipe on the ocean floor.
On Capitol Hill, efforts to increase the liability cap for oil companies involved in oil spills has failed. Under existing law, BP may be required to pay just $75 million in economic dangers related to the Gulf spill. Last week, a group of Democratic senators introduced the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act, which aimed to increase the liability cap from $75 million to $10 billion. On Thursday, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska helped defeat the bill to lift the cap.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski: "It would be impossible, or perhaps close to impossible, for any energy company that is smaller than the super majors, smaller than the national oil companies, to operate in the OCS. $10 billion in strict liability would preclude their ability to obtain financing, to obtain the bonds or insurance for any exploration."
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey defended lifting the cap to $10 billion.
Sen. Robert Menendez: "First of all, when we call these 'independent drillers,' some of these independent drillers that are portrayed as small 'mom and pop,' you know, some of them are like $20 billion companies, so they’re not quite the 'mom and pop' view that we have of small 'mom and pop' businesses, number one. And if you drill, you need to be able to pay for the damages, because otherwise imagine if this particular spill had been done by a, quote-unquote 'small company.' Then who would be responsible? Just because they were too small?"
In other drilling news, six West Coast senators have proposed a permanent ban on offshore oil drilling in the Pacific Ocean. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California announced the proposal along with senators from Washington and Oregon.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "I can’t imagine putting a rig out there with faulty equipment as deep as it is — even a submarine can’t reach it — and with no set method to close off that well. So we believe that offshore oil drilling is simply not worth the risk, and I think here you have every senator on the West Coast saying, 'We don't want it. We will fight to protect our coast.’ And the beginning is this bill."
The Center for Biological Diversity has announced plans to sue Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for ignoring marine mammal protection laws when approving offshore drilling operations. Since Salazar took office, the Department of the Interior has approved three lease sales, more than 100 seismic surveys, and more than 300 drilling operations without permits required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Federal agents detained three Pakistani men on Thursday during a series of raids in the Northeast as part of the probe into the failed Times Square car bombing. Attorney General Eric Holder said officials are working to determine the nature of the connection between the detained men and Faisal Shahzad, the accused bomber.
Attorney General Eric Holder: "There’s at least a basis to believe that one of the things that they did was to provide him with funds, and so we’re trying to trace back to see what exactly was the nature of those transactions, the purpose of the sharing of those monies. And so this is just part of an ongoing investigation, and I think it, though, is a significant step."
In news from Afghanistan, the Atlantic Magazine is reporting the Defense Intelligence Agency is running a classified interrogation facility at a secret prison inside the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The secret site is run by intelligence operatives and interrogators who work for the DIA’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center. They perform interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counterterrorism brigade. Prisoners held at the site have reported being subjected to sleep deprivation, freezing temperatures and other abuses.
USA Today is reporting the monthly cost of the war in Afghanistan has topped the war in Iraq for the first time since 2003 and shows no sign of letting up. In February, the Pentagon spent about $6.7 billion in Afghanistan, compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq. As recently as fiscal year 2008, Iraq was three times as expensive.
NATO-led forces have been accused of killing between nine and fifteen Afghan civilians in an overnight raid near the city of Jalalabad. Earlier today hundreds of Afghans set fire to tires and blocked streets to protest the killings.
In Thailand, troops have fired live rounds at anti-government protesters as clashes intensify in the streets of Bangkok. At least two people have reportedly died, and two journalists have been shot. Thai troops are attempting to reclaim parts of the city’s center, which have been turned into a camp by the protesters known as the Red Shirts. Authorities have cut off water and electricity to the protesters’ sprawling camp. Tension in Thailand has increased markedly over the past twenty-four hours. On Thursday, a renegade Thai general who leads the red shirt movement was shot in the head by a sniper. The general, Khattiya Sawasdipol, was shot while giving an interview with the New York Times. He is now on life support. Two weeks ago, the general was interviewed on France 24 and was asked if he was afraid for his safety.
In news from Latin America, lawmakers in Ecuador have postponed a vote on a controversial water bill that sparked protests by indigenous groups and other organizations. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa says the bill is needed to better regulate the nation’s water system, but opponents fear the water bill would pave the way for privatization of natural resources and make it easier for the government to make concessions to mining companies and large industries. Earlier this week, indigenous groups blockaded roads in several regions. The police responded with tear gas and arrests.
Magdalena Velez, president of the Popular Front: "The member organizations of the Popular Front are here today, once again mobilized next to the indigenous movement, at this critical moment when there is an attempt to privatize water in our country. President Rafael Correa is showing disrespect for the will of the people of Ecuador.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled its final rule for regulating major emitters of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Starting next year, the EPA will require large power utilities, manufacturers and oil refiners to get permits to operate or prove they are using the latest green technology to cut emissions when building new capacity. The EPA said the new rules will cover nearly 70 percent of US emissions from stationary sources.
Here in New York, protesters from ACT UP, Africa Action, Global Access Project and other groups rallied outside a Democratic fundraiser last night featuring President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Police arrested eight protesters after they chained themselves together and disrupted traffic. The groups accused Obama of reneging on his campaign pledge to spend at least $50 billion by 2013 for the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Since taking office, Obama has shifted funding away from international AIDS programs at a time when the number of people infected with HIV continues to grow by a million a year. The United Nations now estimates there is a global shortfall of about $17 billion for controlling the epidemic.
Jennifer Flynn of Global Access Project: "We are here today to protest in front of this $15,000-per-person dinner hosted by President Obama to the fact that he’s gone — he’s broken his promise to fully fund the fight against global AIDS. In both of his budgets that he’s issued, he has consistently cut funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief."
Another prominent Latino hip-hop artist has canceled an upcoming performance in Arizona. The rapper Pitbull said Thursday his May 31 show in Phoenix was off because of the state’s new anti-immigrant law. Earlier this week, the group Cypress Hill canceled a concert in Tucson.