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May 4, 2010 12:57 PM by Letitia Walker

Tuesday: Oil Spill Update

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The sea calmed Tuesday, helping efforts to

fight a massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico but providing scant

comfort for people along beaches and bayous waiting anxiously to

find out when and where the mess might come ashore.

So far only sheens have reached into some coastal waters, and

the oil's slow movement despite an uncapped seafloor gusher has

given crews and volunteers time to lay boom in front of shorelines.

That effort was stymied by choppy seas into the weekend, but

officials were optimistic Tuesday as the sun came out and winds

eased.

Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley said Tuesday that rig

operator BP PLC would continue trying to cap the leak and

authorities hoped to dump chemicals from an airplane to help break

up the sheen.

The uncertainty has been trying for people who live along a

swath of the Gulf from Louisiana to Florida. The undersea well has

been spewing 200,000 gallons a day since an April 20 explosion

aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers.

The rig was owned by Transocean Ltd.

"You mentally want to push it back to the west, and then you

feel guilty for doing so," said Jan Grant, manager at the St.

George Inn on St. George Island, Fla., about the path the spill

might take.

BP has been unable to shut off the well, but crews have reported

progress with a new method for cutting the amount of oil that

reaches the surface. They're using a remotely operated underwater

vehicle to pump chemicals called dispersants into the oil as it

pours from the well, to break it up before it rises. Results were

encouraging but the approach is still being evaluated, BP and Coast

Guard officials said.

The latest satellite image of the slick, taken Sunday night,

indicates that it has shrunk since last week, but that only means

some of the oil has gone underwater.

The new image found oil covering about 2,000 square miles,

rather than the roughly 3,400 square miles observed last Thursday,

said Hans Graber of the University of Miami.

Fishing has been shut down in federal waters from the

Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle, leaving boats idle

Monday in the middle of the prime spring season. A special season

to allow boats to gather shrimp before it gets coated in oil will

close Tuesday evening.

The effect on wildlife is still unclear. No oil has been found

on 29 dead endangered Kemp's ridley turtles that were examined by

experts after washing up on the beaches along the Mississippi coast

over the past few days.

But Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal

Studies in Gulfport, said tissue samples would be sent off to labs

for further review. Experts have warned that just because no oil is

found on the turtles that doesn't mean they didn't consume

contaminated fish or come into contact with toxins.

Meanwhile, crews haven't been able to activate a shutout valve

underwater. And it could take another week before a 98-ton

concrete-and-metal box is placed over one of the leaks to capture

the oil.

Worse, it could take three months to drill sideways into the

well and plug it with mud and concrete to stop the worst U.S. oil

spill since the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska, leaking

nearly 11 million gallons of crude.

Those nowhere near the Gulf who drink coffee, eat shrimp, like

fruit or plan to buy a new set of tires could also end up paying

for the disaster.

A total shutdown of Mississippi River shipping lanes is

unlikely. But there could be long delays if cargo vessels that move

millions of tons of fruit, rubber, grain, steel and other

commodities in and out of the nation's interior are forced to wait

to have their oil-coated hulls power-washed to avoid contaminating

the Mississippi. Some cargo ships might choose to unload somewhere

else in the U.S. That could drive up costs.

"Let's say it gets real bad. It gets blocked off and they don't

let anything in. They lose time, and they are very concerned about

that," said river pilot Michael Lorino. "It's going to be very

costly if they have to unload that cargo in another port and ship

it back here because it was destined for here."

BP said Monday it would compensate people for "legitimate and

objectively verifiable" claims from the explosion and spill, but

President Barack Obama and others pressed the company to explain

exactly what that means.

For the tourism industry, the spill couldn't come at a worse

time. Restaurant owners and inkeepers said they are already getting

calls about the spill.

"It's the beginning of the booking season, the beginning of the

summer season," said Marie Curren, sales director for

Brett/Robinson, a real estate firm in Gulf Shores, Ala. "The only

thing that could make it worst now is a hurricane."

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist toured an Escambia County emergency

operations center and said while the Panhandle would see the first

impact from the spill, the entire state should be prepared.

"If and when it gets into the Gulf Stream, that will take it

around the Gulf of Mexico potentially down to the Keys and around

the Atlantic side. Now, I don't want to be an alarmist, but I want

to be a realist. And I just think we all need to be prepared to do

whatever we can to protect our state. It's precious."

Dana Powell expects at least some lost business at the Paradise

Inn in Pensacola Beach, Fla., and could see a different type of

guest altogether: Instead of families boating, parasailing and

fishing, workers on cleanup crews will probably be renting her

rooms.

"They won't be having as much fun," she said, "but they might

be buying more liquor at the bar, because they'll be so

depressed."

And what will she serve in her restaurant? Hamburgers and

chicken fingers instead of crab claws.

By all accounts, the disaster is certain to cost BP billions.

But analysts said the company could handle it; BP is the world's

third-largest oil company and made more than $6 billion in the

first three months of this year. The oil spill has drained $32

billion from BP's stock market value.

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