Friday, 12 August 2011

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has said it is working to stop a leak at one of its North Sea oil platforms.

The company would not say how much oil may have been spilt from the Gannet Alpha platform though it said it had "stemmed the leak significantly".

One of the wells at the Gannet oilfield has been closed, but the company would not say if production was reduced.

The company says it has sent a clean-up vessel to the location and has a plane monitoring the surface.

The leak was found in a flow line connecting an oil well to the platform.

"We can confirm we are managing an oil leak in a flow line that serves the Shell-operated Gannet Alpha platform. We deployed a remote-operated vehicle to check for a subsea leak after a light sheen was noticed in the area," said a Shell spokesman.

"We have stemmed the leak significantly and we are taking further measures to isolate it. The subsea well has been shut in, and the flow line is being de-pressurised," he added.

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FOUR riot louts have gone on camera to compare their orgy of looting to a "shopping spree".

The group confessed to stealing iPads, Blackberry tablet computers, games consoles, laptops, clothes, trainers and even NAPPIES.

Their looting campaign was so well organised the group said they had a van to courier them and their booty around flashpoints in the capital.

The gang - aged 16 and 17 - stole so much the van had to be emptied between crime sprees to make room for more loot.

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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Wandsworth tower block flats fire: Man critical

A man is said to be in a critical condition in hospital after a fire broke out in a high-rise block of flats in south London.

The man is suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation as a result of the fire at the 15-storey block in Linstead Way, Wandsworth.

About 150 people were evacuated after a fire broke out on the ninth floor at about 00:30 BST, the fire service said.

Scotland Yard said the blaze was not linked to the recent disorder.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said. "Police were called... by London Ambulance Service to reports of a fire on the ninth floor of a block of flats in Linstead Way, Wandsworth.

"A man thought to be in his 40s has been taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. He is in a life-threatening condition.

"The block has been evacuated."

More than 25 fire vehicles, including eight engines, attended the fire following a call from a member of the public.


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Thursday, 4 August 2011

Mr Bean actor Rowan Atkinson cheated death tonight after crashing his high-powered McLaren F1 supercar.

Atkinson, 56, was driving the £650,000 car, which has a top speed of 230mph, when it is believed he lost control and spun it several times before smashing into a tree and then a lampost.

The car came to rest at the side of the carriageway before catching fire.

The actor managed to get himself out of the driver's seat and it's understood that another motorist looked after the shaken star until emergency services arrived at the crash site on the A605, near Haddon, Cambridgeshire, shortly after 7.30pm.

Firefighters put the blaze out and Mr Atkinson was taken to Peterborough District Hospital suffering from a shoulder injury.

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service confirmed: "We attended the scene of a single vehicle RTA earlier this evening and took a man with minor injuries to hospital." 

One onlooker said: “Rowan is lucky to be alive.”

Around the time of the accident, TV station Dave was showing a repeat of the comedy star’s appearance on Top Gear earlier this year, where Atkinson became the fastest star in a reasonably priced car.

The Blackadder writer owns a collection of vintage and classic cars and has written articles for specialist car magazines.

It is the second time he has crashed the supercar he bought to celebrate the success of his movie in the role of Mr Bean.

The front of the car was wrecked in the previous collision with the rear of a Rover Metro in Lancashire, in October 1999.

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Trading in the shares of Lloyds and Barclays had to be suspended because their values fell so much

José Manuel Barroso’s warning came as stock markets plunged around the world amid growing fears of another global recession.
Mr Barroso called for an emergency strengthening of Europe’s bail-out mechanism. He said he had “deep concerns” about the faltering Spanish and Italian economies.
The stark message was delivered as the FTSE 100 suffered a 3.43pc fall, its biggest since the height of the banking crisis in March 2009.
In the past five days, investors have lost a total of £125bn.
The doubts spread to America as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 4.3pc to its lowest point since December 1 2008.

In other developments:
* The City watchdog asked British banks to reveal how much exposure they had to other European member states, including Belgium
* Trading in the shares of Lloyds and Barclays had to be suspended because their values fell so much
* BNY Mellon, one of the largest banks in America, said it would start charging some customers to deposit money as investors hoarded cash
* Switzerland and Japan were forced to cut interest rates to dampen demand for their currency from investors seeking a “safe haven”
Mr Barroso’s letter to European Council members came a fortnight after European leaders were congratulating themselves for bringing the Greek economy back from the brink with a £96bn bail-out.
He said the main reason for the market instability was the “undisciplined communication and complexity and incompleteness” of the Greek package.
Investors were not convinced that member states had a grip on the crisis.
Mr Barroso said he had “deep concerns” about Spain and Italy, as the cost of borrowing for both economies reached more than 6.2pc, close to the 7pc level at which the eurozone was forced to bail out Greece.
He called for the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out fund to be expanded to safeguard the euro because existing mechanisms were failing to calm the stock markets.
“Markets remain to be convinced that we are taking the appropriate steps to resolve the crisis,” he said. “We are no longer managing a crisis just in the euro-area periphery. Euro-area financial stability must be safeguarded.
“These developments…reflect a growing scepticism among investors about the capacity of the euro area to respond to the evolving crisis.”
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, sought yesterday to play down the scale of the crisis by insisting that his country had “sound economic fundamentals”.
“Our banks are liquid, they passed the stress tests and Italian families are less indebted than others among the major economies,” he said.
Earlier, the Spanish government had to pay high interest rates in a bond sale as concerns about sovereign debts grew. Madrid sold €2.2bn of bonds maturing in 2014 at a 4.8pc average yield, up on the 4.29pc it offered in a sale this time last month.
The European Central Bank intervened in an attempt to stabilise the markets, announcing that it would offer unlimited loans to banks for the next six months. Jean-Claude Trichet, the bank's president, said: “The common aim should be to put public debt ratios and finances on a sustainable path as soon as possible.
“Substantial and comprehensive structural reforms need to be implemented in the countries of the euro area to increase the flexibility of their economies and their longer-term growth potential.”
In a day of increasing tension across Europe, Mr Barroso’s call to increase the size of the bail-out fund was immediately rejected by Germany, which said his comments could stoke further market uncertainty.
Jyrki Katainen, the Finnish prime minister, said Europe was “in a very dangerous situation” amid growing concern that the bailout fund was too small.
Howard Archer, the chief British and European economist for the financial analysts at IHS Global Insight, said: “There has always been a feeling that European leaders have been kicking the can down the road.
“But subsequent events have proved that the problems are still there.”
A tenth of the €440bn fund has been committed to the bailouts of Ireland and Portugal, with reserves to be further reduced by the Greek bailout.
Stock markets around the world dropped sharply as fears of a second recession gathered pace.
The FTSE 100 fell by 191 points, or 3.43pc, to 5,393, wiping almost £50bn off the value of Britain’s largest companies. Other European financial indexes followed suit, with the French stock market falling by 3.9pc, the German by 3.4pc, the Spanish by 3.89pc and the Italian by 5.16pc.
In America, the impact of the eurozone debt crisis was exacerbated by a slowdown in the country’s manufacturing and services sector, suggesting that the economic recovery has stalled.
Today will be critical for stock markets with the release of the latest monthly report on unemployment.
Wall Street is already expecting a weak report, with just 85,000 jobs created. Anything less risks triggering another wave of selling as investors run for cover.
The renewed anxiety over the economy is putting more pressure on President Barack Obama, whose poll ratings have dropped to a new low of 40pc this week. However, the White House and the Federal Reserve have little ammunition left to help shore up confidence.
In a sign of concern about declining returns from US stocks, investment houses have started to deposit large amounts of cash in banks, which are seen as safer options than stocks.
Gold prices dropped from record highs as investors sold their holdings to pay for losses suffered on the stock markets.
“When there’s this much bloodshed out there, nothing is impervious to this type of selling, not even gold,” said Matt Zeman, of Kingsview Financial.
British families’ living standards have fallen by almost five per cent over the past five years, said Douglas McWilliams, the chief executive of the Centre for Economics and Business Research. The centre forecast that, over a 25-year period, this figure will reach 25pc, meaning that over a single generation families’ quality of life will fall significantly.

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The drought that has turned Texas and parts of the Plains into a parched moonscape of cracked earth could persist into next year,

The drought that has turned Texas and parts of the Plains into a parched moonscape of cracked earth could persist into next year, prolonging the misery of farmers and ranchers who have endured a dry spell that is now expected to be the state's worst since the 1950s.

Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. A bacteria called Chromatiaceae has turned the 1-to-2 acres of lake water remaining the color red. A combination of the long periods of 100 plus degree days and the lack of rain in the drought -stricken region has dried up the lake that once spanned over 5400 acres. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

A view from the top of the dam looking down onto O.C. Fisher Lake shows a small area of red-tinted water by the dams flood gate Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. A bacteria called Chromatiaceae has turned the 1-to-2 acres of lake water remaining the color red. A combination of the long periods of 100 plus degree days and the lack of rain in the drought -stricken region has dried up the lake that once spanned over 5400 acres. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Houston Police Dept. Lake Patrol senior officer, Gary Crawford, uses a shovel to remove debris from pilings of an old railroad trestle in Lake Houston so the pilings can be cut down with a saw shown Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 in Houston. The patrol unit is working to remove the hazard of the pilings that are now exposed on an island in the lake. The drought has caused the water level in Lake Houston to drop nearly seven feet exposing islands and obstacles. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Melissa Phillip)

The remains of a dead alligator gar is seen on the dried out bed of O.C. Fisher Lake at San Angelo State Park Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. According to state park officials, long periods of 100 degree plus days and lack of rain in the drought-stricken region over the past few years has nearly dried out the man made reservoir that once spanned over 5400 acres. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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The U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that the La Nina weather phenomenon blamed for the crippling lack of rain might be back soon, just two months after the last La Nina ended. If that happens, the drought would almost certainly extend into 2012.

The extreme dry conditions have been made worse by week after week of triple-digit temperatures, which have caused reservoirs to evaporate, crops to wither and animals and fish to die off by the thousands.

"The suffering and desperate need for relief grows with the rising temperatures and record-breaking heat that continue to scorch Texas with each passing day," state Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples said.

Even the state's feral hogs are hiding from the heat, postponing a new reality TV show about Texans gunning them down from helicopters.

Texas saw less than an inch of rain statewide in July, and more than 90 percent of the state is already in the two most extreme stages of drought.

"Anything below 2 to 3 inches of rainfall would be a fly-on-the-windshield type thing as far as improvement," said Victor Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service. "It wouldn't reverse this continued death spiral we're on."

Also Thursday, the state climatologist declared this the most severe one-year drought on record in Texas. Officials expected to declare soon that it has become the worst drought since the 1950s.

A newly updated weather map showed the drought holding firm — if not intensifying — through at least October.

In Dallas, county officials say at least 12 people have died from the heat this summer. The high temperature Thursday was expected to hit 109 degrees, which would be a record for the date.

Statewide demand for power was expected to approach the maximum Thursday for a fourth straight day. Some large industrial plants were forced off the overburdened electric grid, requiring them to shut down or rely on their own power reserves.

And for the first time this summer, utilities warned residential customers of the potential for rolling outages.

Beleaguered farms and dead pastures have been hurt the most. The agriculture industry, which accounts for nearly 9 percent of the Texas economy, may be headed for the biggest single-year losses ever — potentially as high as $8 billion, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

The La Nina watch issued by the Climate Prediction Center warned that the phenomenon marked by a cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean could soon redevelop. La Nina typically results in less rain for southern states, and it's blamed for drought conditions in Oklahoma and New Mexico, too.

A La Nina watch means conditions are favorable for La Nina to return within the next six months. But Texas will probably know as early as October or November, said Mike Halpert, a deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center.

By that time, the driest places could be out of water.

In the town of Robert Lee, a rural farming community of about 1,000 in the middle of West Texas, people are worried that Lake E.V. Spence could dry up by winter and leave the town without any water.

Some residents wonder if the National Guard can haul in water. Making matters worse, a pipe that was probably busted by the dry, shifting ground began gushing water the town cannot spare. City workers scrambled Thursday to fix it.

Closer to Austin, the Llano River trickled at a rate about 95 percent slower than normal. The city of Llano already has contacted bottled water distributors about supplying residents with bottles for cooking and drinking if the river flow stops entirely, which could happen in a matter of weeks.

"It's amazing we're still getting what water we are," City Manager Finley deGraffenried said. "We're running 107 degrees yesterday and the day before. It's unbearable."

Texas received no significant rain in April or May, which are typically the state's wettest months. Lake levels are so low that earlier this week, a massive chunk of the space shuttle Columbia that broke apart over Texas in 2003 was found poking out of the receded waters of Lake Nacogdoches.

About 70 percent of Texas rangeland and pastures are classified as being in very poor condition, which means there has been complete or near-complete crop failure or there's no food for grazing livestock.

One of the most memorable droughts occurred in the 1950s, when a decade of below-average rainfall and long dry spells actually changed the state's demographics, with many families fleeing parched farms for cities. Experts say the current drought is nowhere near so severe, but if it continues, the scarcity of water will be painful.

In the mid-1950s, Texas had a population of 7 million.

"We got a state with 25 million now. You can see the impact would be significantly greater if we had a drought that the 1950s had," said Travis Miller, a member of the state's Drought Preparedness Council and AgriLife Extension Service leader.

One upside is that second La Ninas are historically weaker than the first, Halpert said.

The formation of La Nina also doesn't guarantee there won't be significant rain. The pattern often makes for a more active hurricane season, which could lash Texas with a soaking storm. Forecasters said Thursday they still see a busy hurricane season ahead, calling for 14 to 19 tropical storms.

"If I was in Texas, this is not great news," Halpert said. "But it's not the end of the world."

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