New BP boss says it’s time to scale back oil cleanup

Signs point to new, long-term phase of spill re­cov­ery ef­forts

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Harry R. We­ber and Greg Bluestein

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.

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