May 4, 2010 12:57 PM by Letitia Walker
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The sea calmed Tuesday, helping efforts to
fight a massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico but providing scant
comfort for people along beaches and bayous waiting anxiously to
find out when and where the mess might come ashore.
So far only sheens have reached into some coastal waters, and
the oil's slow movement despite an uncapped seafloor gusher has
given crews and volunteers time to lay boom in front of shorelines.
That effort was stymied by choppy seas into the weekend, but
officials were optimistic Tuesday as the sun came out and winds
Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley said Tuesday that rig
operator BP PLC would continue trying to cap the leak and
authorities hoped to dump chemicals from an airplane to help break
up the sheen.
The uncertainty has been trying for people who live along a
swath of the Gulf from Louisiana to Florida. The undersea well has
been spewing 200,000 gallons a day since an April 20 explosion
aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers.
The rig was owned by Transocean Ltd.
"You mentally want to push it back to the west, and then you
feel guilty for doing so," said Jan Grant, manager at the St.
George Inn on St. George Island, Fla., about the path the spill
BP has been unable to shut off the well, but crews have reported
progress with a new method for cutting the amount of oil that
reaches the surface. They're using a remotely operated underwater
vehicle to pump chemicals called dispersants into the oil as it
pours from the well, to break it up before it rises. Results were
encouraging but the approach is still being evaluated, BP and Coast
Guard officials said.
The latest satellite image of the slick, taken Sunday night,
indicates that it has shrunk since last week, but that only means
some of the oil has gone underwater.
The new image found oil covering about 2,000 square miles,
rather than the roughly 3,400 square miles observed last Thursday,
said Hans Graber of the University of Miami.
Fishing has been shut down in federal waters from the
Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle, leaving boats idle
Monday in the middle of the prime spring season. A special season
to allow boats to gather shrimp before it gets coated in oil will
close Tuesday evening.
The effect on wildlife is still unclear. No oil has been found
on 29 dead endangered Kemp's ridley turtles that were examined by
experts after washing up on the beaches along the Mississippi coast
over the past few days.
But Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal
Studies in Gulfport, said tissue samples would be sent off to labs
for further review. Experts have warned that just because no oil is
found on the turtles that doesn't mean they didn't consume
contaminated fish or come into contact with toxins.
Meanwhile, crews haven't been able to activate a shutout valve
underwater. And it could take another week before a 98-ton
concrete-and-metal box is placed over one of the leaks to capture
Worse, it could take three months to drill sideways into the
well and plug it with mud and concrete to stop the worst U.S. oil
spill since the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska, leaking
nearly 11 million gallons of crude.
Those nowhere near the Gulf who drink coffee, eat shrimp, like
fruit or plan to buy a new set of tires could also end up paying
for the disaster.
A total shutdown of Mississippi River shipping lanes is
unlikely. But there could be long delays if cargo vessels that move
millions of tons of fruit, rubber, grain, steel and other
commodities in and out of the nation's interior are forced to wait
to have their oil-coated hulls power-washed to avoid contaminating
the Mississippi. Some cargo ships might choose to unload somewhere
else in the U.S. That could drive up costs.
"Let's say it gets real bad. It gets blocked off and they don't
let anything in. They lose time, and they are very concerned about
that," said river pilot Michael Lorino. "It's going to be very
costly if they have to unload that cargo in another port and ship
it back here because it was destined for here."
BP said Monday it would compensate people for "legitimate and
objectively verifiable" claims from the explosion and spill, but
President Barack Obama and others pressed the company to explain
exactly what that means.
For the tourism industry, the spill couldn't come at a worse
time. Restaurant owners and inkeepers said they are already getting
calls about the spill.
"It's the beginning of the booking season, the beginning of the
summer season," said Marie Curren, sales director for
Brett/Robinson, a real estate firm in Gulf Shores, Ala. "The only
thing that could make it worst now is a hurricane."
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist toured an Escambia County emergency
operations center and said while the Panhandle would see the first
impact from the spill, the entire state should be prepared.
"If and when it gets into the Gulf Stream, that will take it
around the Gulf of Mexico potentially down to the Keys and around
the Atlantic side. Now, I don't want to be an alarmist, but I want
to be a realist. And I just think we all need to be prepared to do
whatever we can to protect our state. It's precious."
Dana Powell expects at least some lost business at the Paradise
Inn in Pensacola Beach, Fla., and could see a different type of
guest altogether: Instead of families boating, parasailing and
fishing, workers on cleanup crews will probably be renting her
"They won't be having as much fun," she said, "but they might
be buying more liquor at the bar, because they'll be so
And what will she serve in her restaurant? Hamburgers and
chicken fingers instead of crab claws.
By all accounts, the disaster is certain to cost BP billions.
But analysts said the company could handle it; BP is the world's
third-largest oil company and made more than $6 billion in the
first three months of this year. The oil spill has drained $32
billion from BP's stock market value.