Grim Outlook For Oil Spill; Fishing Ban In Effect

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    A boat uses a boom and absorbent material to soak up oil in Cat Bay, near Grand Isle, La., on June 28. A tropical storm is expected to hit the Gulf and impede cleanup efforts.
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    Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and wife Carole Rome Crist (right) stand with others during a Hands Across the Sand event June 26 in Pensacola, Fla. The event was staged across the nation to protest offshore oil drilling.
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    Oil clouds the surface of Barataria Bay near Port Sulpher, La., on June 19.
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    Workers adjust piping while drilling a relief well at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
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    A dolphin rises up out of the water near Grand Terre Island off the coast of Louisiana on June 14.
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    President Obama stands with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (right) and Gulfport, Miss., Mayor George Schloegel after meeting with residents affected by the oil spill.
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    Crude oil washes ashore in Orange Beach, Ala., on June 12. Oil slicks, 4 to 6 inches thick in some parts, have washed up along the Alabama coast.
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    A volunteer uses a toothbrush to clean an oil-covered white pelican at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, La., June 9.
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    A shrimp boat skims oil from the surface of the water just off Orange Beach, Ala., as a family enjoys the surf. Oily tar balls have started washing up on Orange Beach and beaches in the western Florida panhandle.
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    Sand from a dredge is pumped onto East Grand Terre Island, La., to provide a barrier against the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, June 8.
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    A dead turtle floats on a pool of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in Barataria Bay off the coast of Louisiana on June 7.
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    Workers use absorbent pads to remove oil that has washed ashore from the spill in Grand Isle, La., June 6.
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    Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts an oil-covered pelican out of the water on Queen Bess Island in Plaquemines Parish, La., June 5.
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    Heavy oil pools along the side of a boom just outside Cat Island in Grand Isle, La., June 6.
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    President Obama walks alongside Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle (from right), U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response to the spill, and Chris Camardelle after meeting with local business owners in Grand Isle, La., June 4.
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    A brown pelican sits on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast after being drenched in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, June 3.
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    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the BP oil spill. With him, from left: Stephanie Finley and Jim Letten, U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Louisiana; Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division; Tony West, assistant attorney general, Civil Division; and Don Burkhalter, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
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    The oil slick off the coast of Louisiana, seen from above.
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    A worker leaves the beach in Grand Isle, La., on May 30. BP is turning to yet another mix of undersea robot maneuvers to help keep more crude oil from flowing into the Gulf.
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    Protesters cover themselves with a water and paint mixture during a demonstration at a BP gas station in New York City on May 28.
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    Workers clean up oil in Pass a Loutre, La. The latest attempt to plug the leak was unsuccessful.
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    Residents listen to a discussion with parish officials and a BP representative on May 25 in Chalmette, La. Officials now say that it may be impossible to clean the hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands affected by the massive oil spill.
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    An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral it on an island in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. The island, which is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, is impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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    A sign warns the public to stay away from the beach on Grand Isle, La. Officials closed the oil-covered beaches to the public indefinitely on Saturday.
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    Pelican eggs stained with oil sit in a nest on an island in Barataria Bay on May 22.
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    A bird flies over oil that has collected on wetlands on Elmer's Island in Grand Isle, La., May 20. The oil came inland despite oil booms that were placed at the wetlands' mouth on the Gulf of Mexico.
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    Members of the Louisiana National Guard build a land bridge at the mouth of wetlands on Elmer's Island.
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    The hands of boat captain Preston Morris are covered in oil after collecting surface samples from the marsh of Pass a Loutre, La., on May 19.
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    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (center) and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser (right) tour the oil-impacted marsh of Pass a Loutre, La. "This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now," said Jindal.
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    BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay (left), with Transocean President and CEO Steven Newman (center) and Applied Science Associates Principal Deborah French McCay, testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing May 18 on response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill.
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    This undated frame grab image received from BP and provided by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee shows details of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has agreed to display a live video feed of the oil gusher on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee's website beginning Thursday evening.
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    President Obama speaks with local fishermen about how they are affected by the oil spill in Venice, La., on May 2.
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    Danene Birtell with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research tends to a Northern Gannet in Fort Jackson, La., on April 30. The bird, normally white when full grown, is covered in oil from the oil spill.
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    Since the explosion, a third oil leak has been discovered in the blown-out well.
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    In this aerial photo taken April 21 more than 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns.
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    Tendrils of oil mar the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in this satellite image taken Monday. An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day are seeping into the Gulf, after an explosion last week on a drilling rig about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
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Oil Slick's Projected Path

NOAA estimates the oil slick will creep closer to the Mississippi River Delta, Breton Island and Chandeleur Islands.

The federal government closed commercial and recreational fishing from Louisiana to parts of the Florida Panhandle on Sunday, as an uncontrolled gusher spewed massive amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and edged ever closer to the Gulf Coast. The environmental disaster is still expected to take at least a week to cut off.

Even that scenario may be too rosy because it depends on a low-tech strategy that has never been attempted before in deep water.

The plan: to lower 74-ton, concrete-and-metal boxes into the Gulf to capture the oil and siphon it to a barge waiting at the surface. Whether that will work for a leak 5,000 feet below the surface is anyone's guess; the method has previously worked only in shallower waters.

If it doesn't, and efforts to activate a shutoff mechanism called a blowout preventer continue to prove fruitless, the oil probably will keep gushing for months until a second well can be dug to cut off the first. Oil giant BP PLC's latest plan will take six to eight days because welders have to assemble the boxes.

President Obama toured the region on Sunday, saying that he would spare no effort in trying to stop what he calls a "massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster."

The president has halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster. On Sunday, he made clear that he was not accepting blame.

"BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill," he said, rain dripping from his face in Venice, a Gulf Coast community serving as a staging area for the response.

Satellite images indicate the rust-hued slick tripled in size in just two days, suggesting the oil could be pouring out faster than before. Wildlife, including sea turtles, have been found dead on the shore, but it is too soon to say whether the spill, caused by an April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 people, was to blame.

The spill threatens not only the environment but also the region's abundant fishing industry, which Obama called "the heartbeat of the region's economic life." As of now, it appeared little could be done in the short term to stem the oil flow. Obama said the slick was 9 miles off the coast of southeastern Louisiana.

'A Slow Version Of Katrina'

Even if the well is shut off in a week, fishermen and wildlife officials wonder how long it will take for the gulf to recover. Some compare it to the hurricane Louisiana is still recovering from after nearly five years.

"It's like a slow version of Katrina," Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney said. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the fishing ban in federal waters begins immediately and will last for at least 10 days. The ban extends between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida's Pensacola Bay. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco says scientists are taking samples from the waters near the spill to determine whether there is any danger.

"Balancing economic and health concerns, this order closes just those areas that are affected by oil," Lubchenco said in a statement. "There should be no health risk in seafood currently in the marketplace."

BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay i i

BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay told ABC's This Week that BP officials are working to activate a "blowout preventer" mechanism meant to seal off the geyser of oil. Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images
BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay

BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay told ABC's This Week that BP officials are working to activate a "blowout preventer" mechanism meant to seal off the geyser of oil.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

Fishermen still were out working, however: They have been dropping miles of inflatable, oil-capturing boom around the region's fragile wetlands and prime fishing areas. Bad weather, however, was thwarting much of the work; Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said 80 percent of the booms laid down off his state over the previous three days had broken down.

BP Chief Defends Company's Record

Meanwhile, BP Chairman Lamar McKay on Sunday blamed "a failed piece of equipment" for the spill and defended his company's record.

McKay, appearing on ABC's This Week, rejected allegations that cutbacks on safety measures played a role in the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and said his company is throwing every resource it has at plugging the leaks.

Deepwater Horizon Disaster

April 20: Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explodes off Louisiana coast. Eleven workers missing and presumed dead.

April 22: Rig sinks.

April 23: Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry says no oil appeared to be appeared to be leaking from the undersea wellhead or at the water's surface.

April 24: Leak reported; oil estimated to be leaking at rate of 1,000 barrels a day.

April 29: Coast Guard says leak may be five times greater than earlier estimate: 5,000 barrels a day. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declares state of emergency.

May 1: Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen named national incident commander.

May 2: President Obama visits Coast Guard station in Venice, La.

"As you can imagine, this is like doing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet, with — in the dark, with robot-controlled submarines," McKay said.

The containment boxes being built to stop the leak — 40 feet tall, 24 feet wide and 14 feet deep — were not part of the company's original response plan. But they appear to be the best hope for keeping the oil well from gushing for months.

The approach has been used previously only for spills in relatively shallow water. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said engineers are still examining whether the valves and other systems that feed oil to a ship on the surface can withstand the extra pressures of the deep.

"This is a completely new way of dealing with this problem," said Greg Pollock, commissioner of the oil spill prevention and response program at the Texas General Land Office. "Generally speaking, nobody's ever tried anything like this on this scale."

Frustration Grows

The federal government says there are nearly 2,000 people involved in the response effort, with additional resources being mobilized as needed. But NPR's Debbie Elliott, reporting from Orange Beach, Ala., says there's growing frustration that BP and the government have not been aggressive enough in trying to contain the spill at sea.

Zack Carter of the South Bays Community Alliance in Mobile, says communities hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were just starting to come back. "Now we're faced with this other pending disaster," he said. "We are asking that the federal government give us a full response this time."

In Pass Christian, Miss., 61-year-old Jimmy Rowell, a third-generation shrimp and oyster fisherman, worked on his boat at the harbor and stared out at the choppy waters.

"It's over for us. If this oil comes ashore, it's just over for us," Rowell said angrily, rubbing his forehead. "Nobody wants no oily shrimp."

The Coast Guard and BP have said that it's nearly impossible to know how much oil has already gushed since the rig exploded and sank off Louisiana's coast 12 days ago. The Guard had estimated the slick to be at least 1.6 million gallons — equivalent to about 2 1/2 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Other experts say they believe far more oil has been released in a spill many fear now may eclipse the 11 million gallons released by the Exxon Valdez.

BP has not said how much oil is beneath the Gulf seabed that Deepwater Horizon was tapping, but a company official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the volume of reserves, confirmed reports that it was tens of millions of barrels.

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