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Oil stops gushing, but will cap hold?

July 15, 2010
(Page 2 of 2)

The Gulf Coast has been shaken economically, environmentally and psychologically by the hardships of the past three months. That feeling of being swatted around -- by BP, by the government, by fate even -- was evident in the wide spectrum of reactions to news of the capping.

"Hallelujah! That's wonderful news," Belinda Griffin, who owns a charter fishing lodge in Lafitte, La., said upon hearing the gusher had stopped. "Now if we can just figure out what to do with all the oil that's in the Gulf, we'll be in good shape."

The fishing industry in particular has been buffeted by fallout from the spill. Surveys of oyster grounds in Louisiana showed extensive deaths of the shellfish. Large sections of the Gulf Coast -- which accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the oysters eaten in the United States -- have been closed to harvesting, which helps explain why one oysterman in Louisiana refused to accept that progress was afoot.

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At Get-Away-Lodge in Plaquemines Parish, the worst-hit area of the coast, three fishing captains changed oil in the boats they once used for fishing, but are a part of BP's vessel of opportunity program when they heard.

They were pleased, but concerned -- and worried about how long their jobs for BP will last.

"I think it's wonderful they capped it, but it's not helping our businesses," said Chad Horton, 32, a native of Buras, who used to make a living putting customers on schools of redfish and speckled in these bountiful waters. "Our businesses are gone, but we're depending on this (BP job) to support our families. They could come in and pull it out from under us at any time."

Rosalie Lapeyrouse, who owns a grocery store and a shrimping operation in Chauvin, La. that cleans, boils and distributes the catch, was shocked.

"It what?" she said in disbelief. "It stopped?" she repeated after hearing the news.

"Oh, wow! That's good," she said, her face clouding. "I'm thinking they just stopped for a while. I don't think it's gonna last. They never could do nothing with it before."

Long after the out-of-control well is finally plugged, oil could still be washing up in marshes and on beaches as tar balls or disc-shaped patties. The sheen will dissolve over time, scientists say, and the slick will convert to another form.

There's also fear that months from now, oil could move far west to Corpus Christi, Texas, or farther east and hitch a ride on the loop current, possibly showing up as tar balls in Miami or North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expecting to track the oil in all its formations for several months after the well is killed, said Steve Lehmann, a scientific support coordinator for the federal agency.

Once the well stops actively spewing oil, the slicks will rapidly weather and disappear, possibly within a week, and NOAA will begin to rely more heavily on low-flying aircraft to search for tar balls and patties. Those can last for years, Lehmann said.

In St. Bernard Parish, oysterman Johnny Schneider stood near his boat, loaded not with seafood, but yellow plastic boom used to contain oil on the water.

"Eh, the damage is done. The oil's everywhere now," he said. "You ain't never gonna get it out of the water."

Online:

BP underwater video: http://bit.ly/bwCXmR

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