Cleanup will change once oil stops for good

NEW ORLEANS Crews are having trouble finding patches of the crude that had been washing up on beaches and coating coastal wetlands since the /*Deepwater Horizon*/ offshore drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 people, according to retired /*Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen*/.

Though no one knows for sure how much crude might be lurking below the surface, most of what was coming ashore has broken up or been sucked up by skimming boats or burned.

According to Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, it is clear that the cleanup effort is being scaled back even though oil is still showing up on the coast.

His biggest fear is "they are going to start pulling back. They say they are not but already they have canceled catering contracts, they've stopped production of boom at factories."

Nungesser adds that no /*BP*/ spill cleanup efforts were going on in Plaquemines on Wednesday, though a parish crew was working.

"We continued to get slammed by the oil," he said. "Once again, instead of having a seat at the table discussing it, they are pulling the rug from under us."

Barring a calamity, the oil won't start flowing again before BP can permanently kill the well, which could happen as soon as mid-August. Allen said the Coast Guard expects oil to keep showing up on beaches four to six weeks after that happens.

Once the oil stops for good, Allen says the Coast Guard may start redeploying some of the 11 million feet of boom, 811 oil skimmers and 40,000 people that have been part of the oil spill response.

So far the temporary cap put on the busted well two weeks ago is holding firm. Before that, it spewed 94 million to 184 million gallons of oil.

Latest Developments:

  • Now that the plug is out, the relief well must be flushed out with drilling mud before casing can be dropped in and cemented. All that should be done around Monday, Allen said, though he cautioned that was just an estimate.
  • Once everything is in place, crews will begin a procedure known as a static kill, pumping heavy mud straight down the well though the temporary cap and failed blowout preventer. If the well casing is intact, the mud will force the oil back down into the natural petroleum reservoir. Then workers will pump in cement to seal the casing.
  • The static kill is on track for completion some time next week. Then comes the "bottom kill," where the relief well will be used to pump in mud and cement; that process will take days or weeks, depending on the success of the static kill.
  • A report by the National Resources Defense Council found oil still fouling beaches even after the gusher was capped July 15. Since the spill started, beaches from Louisiana to the /*Florida Panhandle*/ have been closed or slapped with health warnings more than 2,200 times, the council found.
  • The NRDC report said the oil spill affected 49 of 253 beach segments it monitors in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Texas beaches haven't had any advisories or closings so far.
  • /*Louisiana*/ beaches were the hardest hit: 11 of the 28 monitored beach segments have been closed this year, with 793 combined days of closings compared to 180 advisory days this time last year.
  • Analysts said BP's estimate of spill costs was on the conservative side. Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit predicts BP will eventually pay between $30 billion and $60 billion.
  • Based on the upper estimate of oil spilled so far, BP could be fined up to $4.8 billion under the /*Clean Water Act*/, or up to $18.8 billion if it is found to have committed gross negligence or willful misconduct. BP's estimate assumes it would not get the harsher penalties.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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