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Jul 4, 2010 3:13 PM by Chris Welty

Rough Weather Curtails Some Gulf Cleanup Work

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Cleanup crews across the Gulf of Mexico
surveyed damage done by last week's hurricane while contending
Sunday with choppy seas that idled many of the boats dedicated to
keeping oil from hitting vulnerable beaches and marshes.
Offshore skimming vessels were able to operate in Louisiana
waters, but not off the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida,
officials said.
"We've got our guys out there and they're docked and ready, but
safety is a huge concern for us, especially with the smaller
vessels," said Courtnee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Joint
Information Command in Mobile, Ala.
The offshore skimming in those states has essentially been
curtailed for nearly a week, thanks to weather generated earlier by
Hurricane Alex, even though it was never closer than 500 miles or
so to the spill.
On Sunday, huge barges used to collect oil from skimming vessels
were parked at the mouth of Mobile Bay, waiting for conditions to
subside as waves rose to about 5 feet high miles offshore.
The current spate of bad weather is likely to last well into
next, according to the National Weather Service.
"This should remain fairly persistent through the next few
days, and maybe get a little worse," meteorologist Mike Efferson
said.
On the shore, beach cleanup crews were making progress on new
oil that washed up thanks to the high tides generated by last
week's bad weather.
In Grand Isle, about 800 people were removing tar balls and
liquid oil from seven miles of beach, Coast Guard Cmdr. Randal
Ogrydziak said.
"In a day or two, you wouldn't be able to tell the oil was even
there," he said.
By Wednesday, Ogrydziak said they should have a machine on the
beach that washes sand where the oil washed ashore.
Crews have also been working to put containment boom thrown
around by the storms back into place, he said.
Along the Louisiana coast, skimmers that were able to operate
included the giant converted oil tanker known as A Whale.
Taiwanese shipping firm TMT, which owns the vessel, calls it the
world's largest oil skimmer. Sunday was the second day of testing
the ship's abilities for U.S. Coast Guard and BP officials who will
make a decision about whether to put it - and its purported
capacity to suck up 21 million gallons of oil-tainted water per day
- to work in the Gulf.
But even the giant vessel is having trouble with the weather,
TMT spokesman Bob Grantham said in an e-mail Sunday.
"As was the case yesterday, the sea state, with waves at times
in excess of ten feet, is not permitting optimal testing
conditions," he said.
The vessel's crew is hoping for calmer conditions, so they can
test its skimming ability with a containment boom system designed
to direct greater amounts of oily water to the ship's intake vents.
A decision on whether the ship can be used to help scour the
crude from the Gulf will be made in a few days, Grantham said.
So far, weather has not slowed drilling on two relief wells that
could be the best hope of finally plugging what has become the
worst oil leak in Gulf history. BP officials have said they're
running slightly ahead of schedule on the drilling, but expect
weather or other delays.
Early to mid-August is still the timeframe for the completion of
the drilling.

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