New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — BP has picked Wednesday as the deadline for accepting claims from people and businesses affected by the Gulf oil disaster.
After that, the oil giant will direct people to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, led by attorney Kenneth Feinberg.
“Effective August 23, GCCF will be the only authorized organization managing business and individual claims related to the Deepwater Horizon Incident,” the British energy giant said in a statement.
Feinberg is charged with independently administering the $20 billion escrow account established by BP to compensate for damage caused by the Gulf disaster. He will hold a public meeting at 10 a.m. in Houma, Louisiana.
BP, which said it has paid $368 million in claims so far, will continue to handle claims by government entities.
On Tuesday, a major environmental watchdog group called for more stringent testing of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, where the fall shrimping season began this week. The state of Alabama also reopened coastal waters to fishing for the first time since the disaster.
The National Resources Defense Council released a statement saying it sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, co-signed by almost two dozen Gulf coast groups. The letters asked the government agencies to:
— Ensure that there is comprehensive monitoring of seafood contamination.
— Ensure public disclosure of all seafood monitoring data and methods.
— Ensure that fishery re-opening criteria protect the most vulnerable populations, including children, pregnant women and subsistence fishing communities.
“With the opening of shrimping season and near-daily reopening of fishing areas, seafood safety is a major issue right now,” Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, said in the statement. “The government needs to show it is putting strong safety criteria and testing standards in place to ensure that the seafood from the Gulf will be safe to eat in the months and years to come.”
Government officials, including Vice President Joe Biden and Steve Murawski, NOAA’s chief scientist for fisheries, have said in recent weeks that waters closed to fishermen after the worst oil spill in U.S. history would be reopened when officials guarantee that seafood would pass tests for safety and edibility.
The oil spill has hampered the seafood business across the Gulf as federal and state authorities put much of its waters off-limits amid safety concerns. With the once-gushing well capped temporarily for more than a month now, NOAA and the Gulf states have started lifting those restrictions.
Deborah Long, a spokeswoman for the Southern Shrimp Alliance, said it will probably take days to assess what impact the spill has had on the Gulf catch. And while some shrimpers are eager to get back out, many are still working for the well’s owner, BP, which has hired boats to skim oil off the surface and lay protective booms along the shorelines.
Two reports published Tuesday express concern about the lingering effects of oil spilled from the ruptured BP well.
A team from Georgia Sea Grant and the University of Georgia released a report that estimates that 70 to 79 percent of the oil that gushed from the well “has not been recovered and remains a threat to the ecosystem,” the university said in a release.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of South Florida have concluded that oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill may have settled to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico farther east than previously suspected — and at levels toxic to marine life.
“The dispersant is moving the oil down out of the surface and into the deeper waters, where it can affect phytoplankton and other marine life,” said John Paul, a marine microbiologist at the University of South Florida.
The University of Georgia study “strongly contradicts” a 2-week-old government report saying that only 26 percent of the oil spilled from the well remains in the Gulf.
The spill began after an April 20 explosion on the offshore drilling platform Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 men. Two days later, the platform sank and started gushing oil into the Gulf before it was temporarily capped July 15.
See video here: http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/08/18/gulf.oil.disaster/index.html?hpt=T2