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Summer of oil looms for beleaguered Gulf Coast

The BP oil spill is affecting beaches along the Louisiana coast and forcing fishermen to stay on shore.

The Associated Press
In this Wednesday photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the mobile offshore drilling unit Q4000 holds position directly over the damaged Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer as crews work to plug the wellhead using a technique known as “top kill.” The procedure is intended to stem the flow of oil and gas and ultimately kill the well by injecting heavy drilling fluids.

BOOTHVILLE, La. (AP) - This summer on the oil-stained Gulf Coast
promises to be like no other.
Just off Louisiana on Grand Isle, which was hit with oil from
the spill, the beach reopened for Memorial Day weekend but with
several caveats: No swimming or fishing, and stay away from oil
cleanup crews. Elsewhere, fishermen were idled during what's
normally a busy season, and floating hotels are being set up to
house workers who will try to mop up the crude seeping into
marshes.
With BP making yet another attempt to stem the flow from a
blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico - this time only to contain
the leak, not stop it - signs point to August before any real end
is in sight. On top of that, hurricane season begins Tuesday.
"I was just sitting here thinking our way of life is over. It's
the end, the apocalypse," said fisherman Tom Young of Plaquemines
Parish on the coast. "And no one outside of these few parishes
really cares. They say they do, but they don't do nothing but talk.
Where's the action? Where's the person who says these are real
people, real people with families and they are hurting?"
Responding to suggestions that the military should take the lead
in responding to the spill, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm.
Mike Mullen said Monday that the oil industry is better-equipped to
deal with the disaster.
Military officials have looked at what they have available but
"the best technology in the world, with respect to that, exists in
the oil industry," Mullen said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Mullen also said a decision on the military leading the response
would come from the president.
BP's new plan carries the risk of making the torrent worse, top
government officials warned Sunday. Meanwhile, churches echoed with
prayers for a solution.
"There are people who are getting desperate, and there are more
getting anxious as we get further into the shrimping season and
there is less chance they will recover," said the Rev. Theodore
Turner, 57, at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Boothville, near where
oil first washed ashore. Fishermen make up about a third of his
congregation.
As the oil washes ashore, crude-coated birds have become a
frequent sight. At the sea's bottom, no one knows what the oil will
do to species like the newly discovered bottom-dwelling pancake
batfish - and others that remain unknown but just as threatened.
Scientists from several universities have reported large
underwater plumes of oil stretching for miles and reaching hundreds
of feet beneath the Gulf's surface, though BP PLC CEO Tony Hayward
on Sunday disputed their findings, saying the company's tests found
no such evidence of oily clouds underwater.
"The oil is on the surface," Hayward said. "Oil has a
specific gravity that's about half that of water. It wants to get
to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity."
One researcher said their findings were bolstered by the fact
that scientists from different institutions reached similar
conclusions with separate tests.
"There's been enough evidence from enough different sources,"
said marine scientist James Cowan of Louisiana State University,
who reported finding a plume last week about 50 miles from the
spill site. Cowan said oil reached to depths of at least 400 feet.
Perhaps most alarming of all, 40 days after the Deepwater
Horizon blew up and began the underwater deluge, hurricane season
is at hand. It brings the horrifying possibility of wind-whipped,
oil-soaked waves and water spinning ashore and coating areas much
farther inland.
The spill is already the worst in American history - worse,
even, than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. It has already released
between 18 million and 40 million gallons of oil into the Gulf,
according to government estimates.
"This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we've ever
faced in this country," White House Energy and Climate Change
Advisor Carol Browner said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
BP's next containment effort involves an assortment of undersea
robot maneuvers that would redirect the oil up and out of the water
it is poisoning.
The first step in BP's latest effort is the intricate removal of
a damaged riser that brought oil to the surface of the Deepwater
Horizon rig. The riser will be cut at the top of the crippled
blowout preventer, creating a flat surface that a new containment
valve can seal against.
The valve would force the oil into a new pipe that would bring
it up to a ship. The seal, however, would not prevent all oil from
escaping. Browner said Sunday the effort could result in a
temporary 20 percent increase in the flow. BP has said it didn't
expect a significant increase in flow from the cutting and capping
plan.
If the containment valve fails, BP may try installing a new
blowout preventer on top of the existing one.
In the end, however, a relief well would ease the pressure on
the runaway gusher in favor of a controlled pumping - essentially
what the Deepwater Horizon was trying to do in the first place. But
that will take at least two months.
Using government figures, if the leak continues at its current
pace and is stopped on Aug. 1, 51 million to 106 million gallons
will have spilled.
Coastal tent cities are about to rise to house the workers and
contractors minimizing the damage, while barge-like floating hotels
for a total of about 800 workers are being readied at three
locations off Louisiana. Sand banks and barriers are being built.
But the consensus around the Gulf Coast is turning more apoplectic
and apocalyptic. This is, people are starting to say, a
generational event - tragic to this generation, potentially
crippling to the next.
"The oil spill is part of prophecy," said Turner, the
Louisiana minister. "The Bible prophesized hardships. If we
believe the word of God is true - and we do - we also know that in
addition to prophecying hardships he promised to take care of us."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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