WASHINGTON - Oil was again gushing uncontrollably from the BP spill site on Wednesday after the company was forced to remove the containment cap when a robotic submarine hit a vent. The news came as officials also reported two deaths of workers in the response effort.
BP hoped to reinstall the cap later Wednesday after fixing the vent and checking for safety.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the accident sent gas rising through a vent that carries warm water down to prevent ice-like crystals from forming in the cap.
The cap was then removed, Allen said, and crews are checking to see if crystals have formed before putting it back on. In the meantime, a different system is stilling burning oil on the surface.
The deaths reported Wednesday were not tied to the containment operation. The Coast Guard said the workers had been involved in cleanup operations did that their deaths did not appear to be work related.
One death was a boat captain who died of a gunshot wound, a Coast Guard spokesman sai.d Further details were not immediately available.
Earlier Wednesday, BP said that Bob Dudley was appointed to head the new Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, which is in charge of cleaning up the oil spill.
BP said that the appointment was effective immediately.
Dudley, who had been in charge of BP's operations in the Americas and Asia, will report to Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward.
"We were always going to set up the organization," he said on NBC's TODAY show. "But we have across the Gulf Coast people that are there temporarily, rotating in and out. We are going to bed this down now — we're in there for the long haul and we're going to make sure we're sustained and efficient in working with the Coast Guard to shut off the well and through the spill response and clean up."
He replied that BP will "step back" from the issue while the April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers is investigated. "That process is going to take awhile," he added.
BP is the largest oil and gas producer in the Gulf.
New drilling ban order
On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will issue a new order imposing a moratorium on deepwater drilling after a federal judge struck down the existing one.
Salazar said in a statement that the new order will contain additional information making clear why the six-month drilling pause was necessary in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. The judge in New Orleans who struck down the moratorium earlier in the day complained there wasn't enough justification for it.
Salazar pointed to indications of inadequate industry safety precautions on deepwater wells. "Based on this ever-growing evidence, I will issue a new order in the coming days that eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities."
The White House, which had hoped the ban would provide time to ensure other wells are operating safely, immediately said it would appeal.
The judge's ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by drilling companies to reverse the ban imposed by the Department of Interior, which halted the approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling at 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.
The federal judge in Louisiana granted the drillers' request for a preliminary restraining order that would prevent the ban from taking effect until a trial is held. He did not set a trial date.
District Judge Martin Feldman said the Interior Department failed to provide adequate reasoning and that the moratorium seems to assume that because one rig failed, all companies and rigs doing deepwater drilling pose an imminent danger.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs countered that "continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened does not make any sense and ... potentially puts the safety of those on the rigs and the safety of the environment in the Gulf at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford right now."
Salazar said in his late Tuesday statement imposing a moratorium "was and is the right decision."
"We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP's well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling," Salazar said. "That evidence mounts as BP continues to be unable to stop its blowout, notwithstanding the huge efforts and help from the federal scientific team and most major oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico."
Does judge own oil stock?
Feldman's financial disclosure report for 2008, the most recent available, shows holdings in at least eight petroleum companies or companies that invest in them, including Transocean Ltd., which owned the Deepwater Horizon. The report shows that most of his holdings were valued at less than $15,000, though it did not provide specific amounts.
Feldman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his current holdings.
Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said his ruling should be rescinded if he still has investments in companies that could benefit from Tuesday's ruling.
"If Judge Feldman has any investments in oil and gas operators in the Gulf, it represents a flagrant conflict of interest," he said. "It is possible that he has sold off those assets. We just don't know."