WRAPUP 6-Spill relief well weeks away, hurricane hinders cleanup

* Weeks before relief well reaches gushing pipe – Salazar

* Administration working hard on new moratorium

* BP shares up about 3 percent in New York

* Spill claims expected to easily eclipse $20 billion

* Controlled burns, chemical dispersal on hold

* Panel moves to renew oil spill liability cap
(Adds Salazar comments on moratorium, drilling ban; details on
liability cap and BP legal problems, updates share moves)

By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON, June 30 (BestGrowthStock) – A relief well that might
divert the gushing Gulf of Mexico oil leak is still weeks from
completion, a top U.S. official said on Wednesday, as the
season’s first Atlantic hurricane disrupted cleanup efforts.

U.S. lawmakers also took a step toward making oil companies
face unlimited liabilities from offshore spills like the one
devastating the Gulf coast.

Hurricane Alex was delaying BP Plc’s (BP.L: )(BP.N: ) plans to
boost containment capacity at its leaking undersea well and
threatening to push more oil-polluted water onto U.S. shores.

A relief well, one of two being drilled, is less than 1,000
feet (330 meters) from its target but will still take several
weeks to reach the spewing oil pipe, U.S. Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar told U.S. lawmakers.

Speaking at a House of Representatives Resources Committee
hearing, Salazar said the relief well was now just over 17,000
feet deep and it had a target depth of almost 18,000 feet.

Salazar’s timetable was in line with BP’s own statements,
but there had been speculation earlier this week that the
relief well link could be established earlier.

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For full spill coverage http://link.reuters.com/hed87k

How much oil is really gushing? [ID:nN24203958]

Breakingviews [ID:nLDE65R1P7]

Special Report-Oil spill gushes for lawyers[ID:nN29258627]

Insider TV http://link.reuters.com/ned73m

Graphics http://link.reuters.com/fyc93m

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The Gulf oil spill disaster is in its 72nd day, with
environmental and economic costs to tourism, wildlife, fishing
and other industries mounting and the future of BP, the
London-based energy giant, far from clear.

Salazar said he is working hard to finalize a new offshore
drilling moratorium after a federal court struck down the
administration’s initial six-month ban, but he would not say
when the new moratorium would be issued.

“We believe the moratorium was correct when we put it in
place. We believe it is still correct,” he said, and suggested
drilling would be allowed in well-known offshore fields.

Gulf residents braced for heavy rains and flooding from
Alex, which strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane late on
Tuesday and could become a more powerful Category 2 on
Wednesday. The storm was on track to make landfall near the
Texas-Mexico border late on Wednesday. [ID:nN30159443]

INTERNATIONAL HELP

With strong winds, waves as high as 12 feet and heavy rains
on the way, officials said controlled burns of oil on the
ocean, flights spraying dispersant chemicals and booming
operations were on hold.

The State Department said it would accept offers of help
from a dozen countries and international agencies to contain
and clean up the spill, including two high-speed skimmers and a
fire containment boom from Japan. [ID:nN29161206]

A U.S. Senate committee voted on Wednesday to eliminate
limits on liability that oil companies would face for oil spill
damages. Companies currently enjoy a $75 million cap for
compensating local communities for economic losses and for
cleaning up environmental damage.

The change, if approved and enacted into law, would apply
retroactively to BP. Democrats in both the Senate and House of
Representatives have made the legislation a top priority.

Some Republicans, however, say it will stop small U.S.
companies from drilling and open the door to more big foreign
operators.

BP has said it will cover all costs of its Gulf oil spill.
It has agreed to establish a $20 billion fund, but claims are
expected to easily eclipse that sum. [ID:nWBT014025]

Separately, Michael Bromwich, the new head of the U.S.
agency overseeing offshore drilling, told lawmakers a record of
“bad performance, deadly performance” by an oil company should
be considered “a relevant factor” when the government was
deciding whether to award drilling leases.

Bromwich heads the the Interior Department’s Bureau of
Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, formerly
known as the Minerals Management Service.

Bromwich did not specifically refer to BP. However, his
comments followed a strong denunciation of BP by Representative
George Miller, who said the company should be barred from
offshore drilling because of its poor safety record.

“What I’m worried about is the ethics of this company,” he
said. “They have killed their workers before.”

TOUGHER APPROACH?

In what may signal a generally tougher approach to BP and
other oil companies, the Interior Department said on Wednesday
it fined BP a civil penalty of $5.2 million for submitting
“false, inaccurate, or misleading” reports for energy output on
Native American tribal lands in Colorado.

“It is simply unacceptable for companies to repeatedly
misreport production, particularly when it interferes with the
auditing process,” Bromwich said. [ID:nN30360458]

BP’s market capitalization has shrunk by about $100 billion
since its Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank in 5,000 feet
(1,525 metres) of water on April 22, two days after an
explosion and fire killed 11 workers.

The company’s shares have lost more than half their value
but have seen bargain-hunting this week as well as buying
sparked by talk of takeover bids, reflecting a view that its
massive global energy assets provide long-term value despite
its current problems.

BP shares were up about 3 percent in New York trade on
Wednesday after sharp gains earlier in London.

Stock Research

(Additional reporting by Cyntia Barrera Diaz in Mexico City,
Ernest Scheyder in Bay Baptiste, Louisiana, Leigh Coleman in
Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Joshua Schneyer and Ryan Vlastelica
in New York; Richard Cowan and Tom Doggett in Washington;
Writing by Jerry Norton; Editing by Paul Simao)

WRAPUP 6-Spill relief well weeks away, hurricane hinders cleanup