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Jun 2, 2010 8:10 PM by Chris Welty

Oil Slick Creeping Closer to FL Beaches

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - The BP oil slick drifted perilously close
to the Florida Panhandle's famous sugar-white beaches Wednesday as
a risky gambit to contain the leak by shearing off the well pipe
ran into trouble a mile under the sea when the diamond-tipped saw
became stuck.
The saw had sliced through about half of the pipe when it
snagged, and it took BP 12 hours to free it. The company said
preparations were being made to resume cutting, but didn't give a
timetable on when it might start.
The plan is to fit a cap on the blown-out well at the bottom of
the Gulf of Mexico to capture most of the spewing oil; the twisted,
broken pipe must be sliced first to allow a snug fit.
"I don't think the issue is whether or not we can make the
second cut. It's about how fine we can make it, how smooth we can
make it," said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point
man for the crisis.
As the edge of the slick drifted within seven miles of
Pensacola's beaches, emergency workers rushed to link the last in a
miles-long chain of booms designed to fend off the oil. They were
stymied by thunderstorms and wind before the weather cleared in the
afternoon.
Forecasters said the oil would probably wash up by Friday,
threatening a delicate network of islands, bays and white-sand
beaches that are a haven for wildlife and a major tourist
destination dubbed the Redneck Riviera.
"We are doing what we can do, but we cannot change what has
happened," said John Dosh, emergency director for Escambia County,
which includes Pensacola.
Since the biggest oil spill in U.S. history began to unfold
April 20 with an explosion that killed 11 workers aboard an
offshore drilling rig, crude has fouled some 125 miles of Louisiana
coastline and washed up in Alabama and Mississippi as well. Over
the past six weeks, the well has leaked anywhere from 21 million to
45 million gallons by the government's estimate.
The latest attempt to control the leak is considered risky
because slicing away a section of the 20-inch-wide riser could
remove kinks in the pipe and temporarily increase the flow of oil
by as much as 20 percent. The cap could be placed over the spill as
early as Wednesday.
If the strategy fails - like every other attempt to control the
leak 5,000 feet underwater - the best hope is probably a relief
well, which is at least two months from completion.
As the oil drifted closer to Florida, beachgoers in Pensacola
waded into the gentle waves, cast fishing lines and sunbathed, even
as a two-man crew took water samples. One of the men said they were
hired by BP to collect samples to be analyzed for tar and other
pollutants.
A few feet away, Martha Feinstein, 65, of Milton, Fla., pondered
the fate of the beach she has been visiting for years. "You sit on
the edge of your seat and you wonder where it's going," she said.
"It's the saddest thing."
Officials said the slick sighted offshore consisted in part of
"tar mats" about 500 feet by 2,000 feet in size.
County officials set up the booms to block oil from reaching
inland waterways but planned to leave beaches unprotected because
they are too difficult to defend against the action of the waves
and because they are easier to clean up.
"It's inevitable that we will see it on the beaches," said
Keith Wilkins, deputy chief of neighborhood and community services
for Escambia County.
Florida's beaches play a crucial role in the state's tourism
industry. At least 60 percent of vacation spending in the state
during 2008 was in beachfront cities. Worried that reports of oil
would scare tourists away, state officials are promoting
interactive Web maps and Twitter feeds to show travelers -
particularly those from overseas - how large the state is and how
distant their destinations may be from the spill.
In other developments:
- Investors ran from BP's stock for a second day, fearful of the
potential cleanup costs, lawsuits, penalties and damage to the
company's reputation.
- President Barack Obama said it is time to roll back billions
of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies and use the money for
clean energy research and development.
- A pair of Democratic senators pressed BP to delay plans to pay
shareholder dividends worth $10 billion or more. They called it
"unfathomable" that BP would pay out a dividend before the total
cost of the cleanup is known. BP had no comment.
- More fishing grounds were closed. More than one-third of
federal waters in the Gulf are now off-limits to fishing, along
with hundreds of square miles of state waters.
"I'm going to be bankrupt very soon," said fisherman Hong Le,
who came to the U.S. from Vietnam and rebuilt his home and business
after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 wiped him out. "Everything is
financed. How can I pay? No fishing, no welding. I weld on
commercial fishing boats and they aren't going out now, so nothing
breaks."

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