Tuesday PM August 10th, 2010

The government's point man for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico says crews drilling a relief well to permanently stop the oil will suspend their work until storms pass. Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen says the suspension could delay completion of the relief well by two or three days. Crews will pop in a temporary plug to keep what they've drilled so far safe, but they won't have to remove the drill or send workers back to land. They have about 30 feet left to drill. Finishing the new well and sealing the broken one with mud and cement should be the final act of the three-month oil spill drama that has upended the lives of fishermen and others along the Gulf coast.

For now, success depends on John Wright, chosen by BP to guide a drill more than two miles beneath the sea floor, is trying to hit a target less than half the size of a dartboard. There's just 100 feet to go, but drilling the final stretch of a relief well is a careful and time-consuming process. A drill that's more than two miles beneath the sea floor is being steered toward a target less than half the size of a dartboard. But the man who's guiding it has been successful in each of the other 40 times he's drilled relief wells. If John Wright misses this time, BP engineers will pull the drill bit up, pour concrete in the off-track hole and then try again.

BP says it has received 145,000 claims for lost income because of its blown-out well and has paid out $324 million without denying a single claim. But the company says it also has 39,000 claims pending, and some of those have been hanging for months. BP says those claims are being reviewed and might need more paperwork from the people who filed them before they can be paid. Some Gulf Coast residents say the company is simply putting off denying claims until the federal claims administrator takes over the process. And BP does say it wants the administrator to rule on questionable cases.


Productivity dropped this spring for the first time in more than a year, a sign that companies may need to hire more workers in the near future. The Labor Department says worker productivity declined at an annual rate of 0.9 percent in the second quarter after posting large gains throughout 2009. Unit labor costs edged up 0.2 percent in the second quarter — the first increase since the spring of 2009. Productivity rose by large amounts during the recession. Companies slashed their payrolls and pushed unemployment up to the highest levels in more than two decades. Economists said a slowing in productivity would be welcome development if it translates into more hiring.


Inventories at the wholesale level edged up slightly in June but sales fell by the largest amount in 15 months. The Commerce Department says wholesale inventories rose 0.1 percent in June. Sales fell 0.7 percent. It marked the second straight drop in sales, providing further evidence that the economy was slowing in the spring. Businesses helped drive the early stages of the recovery last year by building up their stocks after slashing them during the recession. The worry is that if consumer demand falters, business could cut back on their inventory restocking and deal a blow to manufacturing production.


President Barack Obama is urging lawmakers to pass a bill that he says will save hundreds of thousands of teachers and other public workers from unemployment. Speaking in the Rose Garden alongside two teachers facing potential job loss, Obama said the bill should not be a partisan issue. He says failing to pass the bill would set the country back at a time when it needs to be moving forward. Democrats say the measure would save more than 300,000 jobs for teachers, police officers and other public health workers. But Republicans see it as reckless government spending and a gift to teachers' unions ahead of the November elections.


Authorities in Nigeria say they have ended a nearly three-week search for a worker who fell from a Transocean drilling ship off the coast of the oil-rich country. Transocean spokesman Guy Cantwell says that the world's largest offshore drilling contractor stopped searching for the Nigerian worker who fell overboard July 21st. Cantwell says the man is still considered missing. He says Transocean officials will meet with the man's family and with his employer. French oil firm Total leases drilling ships from Transocean, based in Zug, Switzerland. Total, Europe's third largest oil company, says African oil fields produce about 750,000 barrels a day — roughly a third of its production.


With the 2010 census nearly finished, the government says it will save $1.6 billion in the cost of the population count because of strong public response and no major problems. The census was originally budgeted at $14.7 billion, with money set aside for outreach in case of a natural disaster or problems such as a boycott from conservatives or immigrants. The Census Bureau says those problems didn't really occur. The agency also reduced costs due to a high mail response rate of 72 percent, as well as quick field work from census takers visiting homes. The unused money will remain in the Treasury. Congress will determine how it is spent. The census is used to allocate seats in Congress and distribute billions in federal aid.


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