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May 27, 2010 9:29 AM by Sharlee Jacobs

Gulf Awaits Word on Latest Bid to Plug Oil Leak

ROBERT, La. (AP) - BP hopes to know by Thursday afternoon
whether its latest attempt to plug a blown-out undersea well with
heavy mud may finally slow the oil that's been gushing into the
Gulf of Mexico.
BP PLC was pumping heavy mud into the leaking well off
Louisiana's coast and executives said Wednesday night that there
had been no problems so far. Still, BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward
said engineers would not know until at least Thursday afternoon
whether the latest remedy was having some success.
"The absence of any news is good news," said Coast Guard
Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the operation. He added:
"It's a wait and see game here right now, so far nothing
unfavorable."
If the risky procedure, known as a top kill, stops the flow, BP
would then inject cement into the well to seal it. The top kill has
worked above ground but has never before been tried 5,000 feet
beneath the sea. BP pegged its chance of success at 60 to 70
percent.
"We're doing everything we can to bring it to closure, and
actually we're executing this top kill job as efficiently and
effectively as we can," BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles
said.
Fishermen, hotel and restaurant owners, politicians and
residents along the coast are fed up with BP's failures to stop the
oil that is coating Louisiana's marshes and the wildlife that
relies on them. The anger has turned toward President Barack Obama
and his administration. Polls show the public is souring on their
handling of the catastrophe.
Sarah Rigaud, owner of Sarah's Restaurant in Grand Isle is tired
and nervous. The oil has to be stopped, she said.
"The tourists won't come," Rigaud said Wednesday, serving
lunch to a half-full restaurant of mostly oil workers and local
politicians who are worrying themselves.
"It makes me very nervous. I have anxiety attacks," she said.
"Every day I pray that something happens, that it will be stopped
and everybody can get back to normal."
Also Wednesday, the Coast Guard pulled commercial fishing boats
from oil cleanup efforts in Breton Sound off the Louisiana coast
after several people became ill. Crew members on three vessels
reported nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains, the Coast
Guard said. Four people were hospitalized, including one who was
flown to a hospital.
The Coast Guard told all 125 commercial vessels that were
helping clean up spilled oil to return to shore. Medical workers
evaluated the crew members as a precaution.
The gusher, which has spewed 7 million gallons of crude by the
most conservative tallies, began after an offshore drilling rig
exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Dozens of witness statements show a combination of equipment
failure and a deference to the chain of command aboard the rig
impeded the system that should have stopped the gusher before it
became an environmental disaster.
Additional leaks springing from the top kill solution were a
grave risk, said Anil Kulkarni, a mechanical engineering professor
at Penn State.
"One scenario is that it may make things worse," Kulkarni
said. "If it ruptures all over, then it would be even more
difficult to close it."
Suttles said BP had not detected any new leaks as of Wednesday
night.
He said within the next day, if oil stops flowing to the
surface, then engineers will know the drilling fluid being pumped
in was starting to work. Engineers were monitoring the well's
pressure readings constantly to determine how much oil was
escaping.
If not, the company had several backup plans, including sealing
the well's blowout preventer with a smaller cap, which would
contain the oil. An earlier attempt to cap the blowout preventer
failed. BP could also try a "junk shot" - shooting golf balls and
other debris into the blowout preventer to clog it up - during the
top kill process.
Last week, the company inserted a mile-long tube to siphon some
of the oil into a tanker. The tube sucked up 924,000 gallons of
oil, but engineers had to dismantle it during the top kill.
A permanent solution would be to drill a second well to stop the
leak, but that was expected to take a couple months.
Some 100 miles of Louisiana coastline had been hit by the oil,
the Coast Guard said.
When will they stop the oil and can they? They were questions on
the lips of residents in Grand Isle at the bottom tip of Louisiana.
"Certainly there's hope. But the reality for us is that whether
they cap it or not, we're still going to have an ecological and
economic disaster down here, one that we don't know whether or not
we'll be in a position to recover," Jefferson Parish Sheriff
Newell Normand said.
In Pass a Loutre, the odor wafting above the oily water was that
of an auto shop.
"There's no wildlife in Pass a Loutre. It's all dead,"
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said.
Louisiana-raised Democratic strategist James Carville has been
critical of the administration response and hoped Obama's visit
Friday would change that.
"I think you're going to see some real action," once the
president sees the oiled coast, Carville said.

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