Jul 29, 2010 8:58 AM by Sharlee Barriere
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The government's point man for the Gulf spill
plans to meet with coastal parish officials Thursday to talk about
what's next now that the oil has stopped flowing.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said crews are having
trouble finding patches of the crude that had been washing up on
beaches and coating delicate coastal wetlands since the Deepwater
Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 people.
Though no one knows for sure how much oil might be lurking below
the surface, most of what was coming ashore has broken up or been
sucked up by skimming boats or burned.
"The oil that we do see is weathered, it is sheen," Allen
Barring a calamity, the oil won't start flowing again before BP
PLC can permanently kill the well, which could happen as soon as
mid-August. Allen said the Coast Guard expects oil to keep showing
up on beaches four to six weeks after that happens.
A tally of beaches hurt by the oil from Louisiana to the Florida
Panhandle found they've been closed or slapped with health warnings
more than 2,200 times through this week since the spill started.
Many beaches were spared, but the environmental group National
Resources Defense Council said there was no clear downward trend
yet since the oil was capped July 15.
In Orange Beach, Ala., Jack Raborn said he didn't see any tar
balls when he went to the shore Wednesday with friends and family.
But when they entered the ocean, he said, the water was tainted.
"It feels like you've got diesel fuel on you. It's sticky,"
said Raborn, 49. "I was optimistic before today. I'm really
disturbed by what I found once we got in the water."
Allen said once oil stops for good, the Coast Guard may start
redeploying some of the 11 million feet of boom, 811 oil skimmers
and 40,000 people that have been part of the oil spill response.
Many of the workers are fishermen who have lost their livelihoods
because of the spill.
Crews have taken a crucial step toward readying the relief well
they need to permanently stop the oil, removing a plug they had
popped in to keep the well safe ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie.
Allen also said Wednesday that a temporary cap put on the busted
well two weeks ago is holding firm. Before that, it spewed 94
million to 184 million gallons of oil.
Crews are taking every precaution as they work toward a
"We have always asked for a backup plan for the backup plan,"
he said. "This relief well, while it is deep, it is something that
has been done before. Obviously the depth is an issue here. But we
are confident we are going to get this thing done."
Drilling the relief well has been a monthslong task, and BP had
used several other techniques to stop the leak that had never been
attempted before in mile-deep waters. Some were utter failures and
none was totally successful until a carefully fitted cap was placed
over the well and the leak stopped in mid-July.
The cap has stopped the flow but is only a temporary measure
while crews finish the relief well that will plug up the gusher
The work had to stop last week because of Bonnie, which passed
through in weakened form without doing any major damage.
Now that the plug is out, the relief well must be flushed out
with drilling mud before casing can be dropped in and cemented. All
that should be done around Monday, Allen said, though he cautioned
that was just an estimate.
Once everything is in place, crews will begin a procedure known
as a static kill, pumping heavy mud straight down the well though
the temporary cap and failed blowout preventer. If the well casing
is intact, the mud will force the oil back down into the natural
petroleum reservoir. Then workers will pump in cement to seal the
The static kill is on track for completion some time next week.
Then comes the "bottom kill," where the relief well will be used
to pump in mud and cement; that process will take days or weeks,
depending on the success of the static kill.