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Cap on but oil still leaking


John Sealy

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PENSACOLA BEACH – Beachgoers gawked at tar balls, discolored seashells and orange foam that washed up on the Gulf Coast’s once-pristine white sand shores yesterday – the crude oil from a busted oil well deep underwater appearing in greater quantities and farther east.
A cap over the gusher was believed to be collecting anywhere from about a quarter to half of the leaking oil, even as the slick stained beaches with a waxy mess that nonetheless appeared to deter few tourists – and attracted the curious.
An aerial tour of the Alabama coast revealed long red tendrils extending into the green water off Gulf Shores, Alabama where oil from beachgoers’ feet spotted boardwalks and some condominiums provided solvents for guests smeared with the brown goo. A reddish streak miles long marked the surf line in front of high-rise condominiums.
“I feel like I’ve gone from owning a piece of paradise to owning a toxic waste dump,” said Erin Tamber, who resettled in the Pensacola area after surviving Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Six weeks after an April 20 oil rig explosion killed 11 workers, oil giant BP PLC has failed to significantly stem the worst spill in US history. The government’s coordinator for the crisis, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, said at a news briefing yesterday that the cap collected about 252 000 gallons of oil last Friday, its first full day of use.
That amount is about half a per cent to 1 per cent of the total oil that, according to government estimates, has already leaked from the sea floor.
The device resembles an upside-down funnel and was lowered over the blown-out well a mile beneath the sea to try to capture most of the oil and direct it to a ship on the surface.
BP officials are trying to strike a delicate balance by capturing as much oil as possible without creating too much pressure or allowing the build-up of a slushy mixture that can clog pipes and which had thwarted an earlier containment effort.
Allen compared the process to stopping the flow of water from a garden hose with a finger, saying, “You don’t want to put your finger down too quickly, or let it off too quickly.”
The goal is to gradually raise the amount of the oil being captured, Allen said. The device’s daily capacity is 630 000 gallons, and officials estimate that about half-a-million to a million gallons a day are gushing out. The well has leaked between 23 million to more than 46 million gallons since the crisis began, according to government estimates.
President Barack Obama pledged yesterday in his weekly radio and Internet address to fight the spill with the people of the Gulf Coast. His words for BP were stern: “We will make sure they pay every single dime owed to the people along the Gulf coast.”
CEO Tony Hayward reiterated yesterday on a company Twitter account that the company would pay all “legitimate” claims. The company estimated this week that it would spend about $84 million up to June to compensate for lost wages and profits. (AP)

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