Checking In On The Gulf Oil Spill
JACKI LYDEN, host:
The Gulf oil spill disaster appears to have reached a turning point this week. BP has cemented the well from the top and is scaling back its response on the Gulf Coast. At the same time, the federal government claims most of the oil is gone.
NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Orange Beach, Alabama.
Hello there, Debbie.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Hi, Jacki.
LYDEN: BPs completed a so-called static kill on its blowout well this week. Can we declare this well dead at last?
ELLIOTT: Not quite yet. Its certainly, though, a milestone to take note of. The cement and mud that was pumped down this week effectively kills the well from the top. So no oil is leaking into the Gulf and its unlikely to start leaking again. Early pressure readings - BP say they look good, the cement is curing(ph). Theyll know more early this coming week.
Now, federal officials say, however, they're not going to declare the well dead until they finish the relief well that they're drilling and are able to pump cement down and kill the well from below - from deep below the ocean floor. So thats what we're waiting on next. Drilling on that expected to resume tomorrow and is on track to finish some time mid-August.
LYDEN: Debbie, is BP saying that it will never again tap this well?
ELLIOTT: They're saying not this well. Not the well that blew out and not these relief wells that are being drilled to kill it. But it could certainly come back later to this lucrative reservoir in the future and drill there.
Analysts are saying there's probably at least $4 billion worth of crude there. And just yesterday BPs chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, referred to it. He said, you know, clearly there's a lot of oil and gas here and at some point we're going to have to think about what we're going to do with it.
LYDEN: Also, the company is sending Doug Suttles back to Houston. Is that a sign that it thinks worst is over?
ELLIOTT: I think we can say it signals a shift in this operation. Hes going to resume his duties in Houston. A vice president is going to take over in the Gulf region for him. You know, after months of seeing nothing really working to get the gusher under control, the main crisis is now over for BP. Theyve got the leak stopped this week, its cemented, you know, they're ready to move on. And certainly the government came out this week and said that most of the oil in the Gulf is now gone.
Now, some scientists have said that could be a bit misleading because theres still a large amount of oil and gas in the Gulf and we dont know what the long-term effects of that are going to be. But you can see, there's evidence that this massive clean-up effort that has been going on is scaling back. In Florida and Alabama, certainly, crews are now out removing that boom that has been deployed to protect beaches and sensitive wetlands.
Local fishermen that have been hired to work for BP doing the skimming and spotting and looking for oiled wildlife, they're being deactivated. They're no longer working for BP. Florida, just this week knocked its emergency response level down a notch. So we're seeing the whole operation sort of move into another phase.
LYDEN: Debbie, I think what a lot of us are wondering now is the reaction of people there. I mean five years ago you covered Katrina. Now people are facing this. What are they looking for?
ELLIOTT: You know, I think right now theres relief that theres no gusher, but there's just so much uncertainty about what the future holds. There are fears of abandonment as BP and the government pull out. Whats that going to mean? The fear of the long-term impact. Right now the financial hit is severe and people are very worried about the perception issue.
Tourists are no longer coming to the Gulf Coast. Theres this impression that there's black oil everywhere, and theres not. It depends on where you are. Many of the popular tourist spots are perfectly clean and declared safe for visitors. So theres this uncertainty and angst about what the future holds.
LYDEN: NPR's Debbie Elliott, reporting from the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Thanks a lot, Debbie.
ELLIOTT: Thank you, Jacki.