New BP boss says it’s time to scale back oil cleanup
Signs point to new, long-term phase of spill recovery efforts
BILOXI, Miss. — BP’s new boss says it’s time for a “scaleback” in cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Federal officials say there is no way the crude could reach the East Coast. And fishing areas are starting to reopen.
There were several signs Friday that the era of thousands of oil-skimming boats and hazmat-suited beach crews is giving way to long-term efforts to clean up, compensate people for their losses and understand the damage wrought. Local fishermen are doubtful, however, and say oil remains a bigger problem than BP and the federal government are letting on.
Other people contend that the impact of the spill has been overblown, given that little oil remains on the Gulf surface, but Bob Dudley, who heads BP’s oil spill recovery and will take over as CEO in October, rejected those claims.
“Anyone who thinks this wasn’t a catastrophe must be far away from it,” he said in Biloxi, where he announced that former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt will be supporting BP’s Gulf restoration work.
After an April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers, BP’s blown-out well gushed 94 million to 184 million gallons of oil before a tem-
Continued from A porary cap stopped it July 15. Efforts to permanently plug the gusher had been expected to begin as early as Sunday, but the government’s point man for the spill said Friday that those plans hit a snag.
Crews found debris in the bottom of the relief well that will be used to plug the leak for good, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government’s spill chief. The debris must be fished out before crews can begin a proce- dure known as a static kill that they hope will make the rest of the job easier.
“It’s not a huge problem, but it has to be removed before we can put the pipe casing down,” Allen said.
The sediment settled in the relief well last week when crews popped in a plug to keep it safe ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie. Removing it will take 24 to 36 hours and probably push the kill back to Tuesday, Allen said.
Once the relief well is ready, crews can begin the static kill, in which mud and possibly cement are pumped in through the temporary cap. The better that procedure seals the blown-out well, the easier it will be to plug it forever by pumping in cement from below using the relief well. The blown-out well could be killed for good by late August, though a tropical storm could set the timetable back.
As the work of plugging the well appears to reach the homestretch, so does much of the cleanup. Relatively little oil remains on the surface of the Gulf, leaving less for thousands of oil skimmers to do.
Dudley said it’s “not too soon for a scaleback” in the cleanup, and in areas where there is no oil, “you probably don’t need to see people in hazmat suits on the beach.”
He added, however, that there is “no pullback” in BP’s commitment to clean up the spill.
Friday in Washington, the House approved a bill to boost safety standards for offshore drilling and remove a $75 million cap on economic liability for oil spills.
Democratic leaders call the bill a comprehensive response to the Gulf spill and say it would increase drilling safety. The House passed the bill 209-193.
Republicans and some oilstate Democrats opposed the measure, calling it a federal power grab that would raise energy prices and kill thousands of American jobs.
Partisan disagreements in the Senate are likely to delay final passage of legislation until at least September, when Congress returns from its summer recess.