Decisions still to be made in clean-up effort
BP claimed a key milestone Wednesday in the effort to plug its blown-out well as a government report said much of the spilled oil is gone, heartening officials who have taken heat during the tricky cleanup but leaving some Gulf Coast residents skeptical.
BP PLC reported that mud forced down the well overnight was pushing the crude back down to its source for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers.
And a federal report being released Wednesday indicated that only about a quarter of the spilled oil remains in the Gulf and is degrading quickly, with the rest having been contained, cleaned up or otherwise disappeared.
President Barack Obama, while noting that people’s lives “have been turned upside down,” declared in Washington that the operation was “finally close to coming to an end.”
The containment effort isn’t over. Crews performing the so-called “static kill” effort overnight now must decide whether to follow up by pumping cement down the broken wellhead. Federal officials said they won’t declare complete victory until they also pump in mud and then cement from the bottom of the well, and that won’t happen for several weeks.
“We’ve pretty much made this well not a threat, but we need to finish this from the bottom,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the spill response, told WWL-TV in New Orleans.
Nearly three-quarters of the oil — more than 152 million gallons — has been collected at the well by a temporary containment cap, been cleaned up or chemically dispersed, or naturally deteriorated, evaporated or dissolved, according to a report by the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“It was captured. It was skimmed. It was burned. It was contained. Mother Nature did her part,” White House energy adviser Carol Browner said on NBC’s “Today” show.
That leaves nearly 53 million gallons in the Gulf. The amount remaining — or washed up on the shore — is still nearly five times the size of the 11 million-gallon Exxon Valdez spill, which wreaked environmental havoc in Alaska in 1989.
About a quarter of the oil evaporated or dissolved in the warm Gulf waters, the same way sugar dissolves in water, federal officials said. Another one-sixth naturally dispersed because of the way it leaked from the well. Another one-sixth was burned, skimmed or dispersed using controversial chemicals.
Nearly 207 million gallons leaked from the well in total, according to government estimates. The cap held back nearly 35 million gallons.
The report’s calculations were based on daily operational reports, estimates by scientists and various analyses by experts. The government acknowledged it made certain assumptions about how oil dissolves in water naturally over time.
Officials, while encouraged by the report, stressed that the fight wasn’t over.
“Less oil on the surface does not mean that there isn’t oil still in the water column or that our beaches and marshes aren’t still at risk,” NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco cautioned in a news release.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley sounded a similar tone in Washington, noting that federal officials need to understand states’ needs going forward.
“Just because the oil has stopped leaking into the Gulf doesn’t mean this disaster is over. There is a long way to go and we all need to remain focused on where we go from here,” he said in a statement.
Charter boat captain Randy Boggs, of Orange Beach, Ala., said Wednesday he has a hard time believing BP’s claims of success with the static kill and similarly dismissed the idea that only a quarter of the oil remains in the Gulf.
“There are still boats out there every day working, finding turtles with oil on them and seeing grass lines with oil in it,” said Boggs, 45. “Certainly all the oil isn’t accounted for. There are millions of pounds of tar balls and oil on the bottom.”
In the fishing town of Yscloskey, La., crabber Oliver Rudesill, 28, said he has been out of business like most of his buddies, some of whom are doing cleanup for BP instead but are earning about a quarter of what they do fishing.
“As soon as BP gets this oil out of sight, they’ll get it out of mind, and we’ll be left to deal with it alone,” he said Tuesday.
At the entrance to Gulf Islands National Seashore at Pensacola Beach, Fla., Don Allen still wasn’t expecting to sell many snow cones or Italian sausages from his food truck.
“I don’t know where it went if it’s not out there,” said Allen, who had to lay off his son because business has been so slow as tourists abandoned beaches over the summer. “It’s all just numbers, and it has changed so often.”
BP applied nearly 2 million gallons of a chemical dispersant to the oil as it spewed from the well, an attempt to break it into droplets so huge slicks wouldn’t tarnish shorelines and coat marine animals, and to encourage it to degrade more quickly.
In Washington on Wednesday, lawmakers pressed scientists to explain what effects the chemical, whose long-term effects have been questioned, will have on the Gulf’s ecosystem.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., called use of the chemicals a “grand experiment” that didn’t guarantee limited damage from the spill or make clear whether greater harm was possible.
The 75-ton cap placed on the well in July had been keeping the oil bottled up inside over the past three weeks but was considered only a temporary measure. BP and the Coast Guard wanted to plug up the hole with a column of heavy drilling mud and cement to seal it off more securely.
The static kill — also known as bullheading — involved slowly pumping the mud from a ship down lines running to the top of the ruptured well a mile below. A previous, similar effort failed in May when the mud couldn’t overcome the unstemmed flow of oil.
Workers stopped pumping mud in after about eight hours of static kill work and were monitoring the well to ensure it remained stable, BP said.
Weber reported from aboard the Q4000. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello in Washington, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., Jennifer Kay in Pensacola Beach, Fla., and Jason Dearen in Yscloskey, La.
More Related Stories
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
- Looting in Oklahoma?
- Hundreds of low-wage federally contracted workers strike in D.C.
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Must-see morning clip: Barackalypse Now
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- Is Pope Francis an exorcist?
- Oklahoma death count confirmed at 24, 9 children
- Frantic parents search for children in tornado's wake
- Crews dig through rubble after deadly tornado
- 51 killed in massive Oklahoma tornado
- Don't cry climate-change wolf
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11