OIL SPILL STOPPED: Residents Worry about Long-Term Effects
Business + Economy

OIL SPILL STOPPED: Residents Worry about Long-Term Effects

No one should pop a cork just yet, as much as they may be tempted. With the flow of oil into the Gulf stopped for the first time in three months, efforts have now turned to testing the cap on the broken well to make sure it holds. The next 48 hours will be critical as scientists study pressure readings, officials say, and there may even be some oil leakage still. They continue to caution that nothing can permanently stop the gusher except the successful completion of the relief wells, due in August.

Thad W. Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral who has been leading the spill response efforts, told reporters on Thursday that the cap was meant mostly to close the well during extreme weather in the Gulf. “[It] was never to close the well per se,” he said. “It creates the opportunity if we have the right pressure readings to shut in the well. It allows us to abandon the site if there is a hurricane.”

Instead of oil, what’s pouring out now from many corners is caution, worry and a great deal of skepticism about the continuing economic and ecological impact of the largest environmental accident the country has ever faced.

“The jury’s still out,” said Peter Ricchiuti, finance professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. “What’s really a terrible concern to many in the area, aside from the damage to the ecology, is the moratorium on drilling. Oil companies are laying workers off. These are highly specialized workers who can’t easily find other work. Their livelihoods will suffer for some time to come.”

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said, “We hope the administration can move forward quickly to resume deepwater offshore drilling activity, which would bolster economic development and reduce unemployment in Gulf Coast communities.”

Now, It’s All about the Clean Up

Florida State University’s Ian R. MacDonald, an expert on oil slicks sees an epic battle far into the future, on many fronts. “Act one of this tragedy is finally drawing to an end. Act two will involve clean up and recovery. Both the Gulf residents and BP face a rocky road. The people have to hope that the long-lasting effects will be minimal, but there will be lingering fears and doubts. BP must somehow rehabilitate its corporate image in the face of lawsuits and possible criminal charges. Act three will employ a huge cast of lawyers and is liable to last for decades.”

To date, about 3,000 killed or oil-covered birds have been collected by wildlife agencies in the Gulf region, and at least 1,085 oiled birds have been rescued, including 152 from Florida waters. The devastation goes far beyond that, of course. Officials say that 463 turtles, 59 dolphins, and one sperm whale have been found dead. There are 80,000 square miles currently closing to fishing, while 572 miles of Gulf shoreline has been soiled by the spill. Environmental experts and others will continue to test different species for oil-related toxicity.

Keith Crane, director of RAND Corporation’s environment, energy, and economic development program, said, “It’s still going to be a long time before both bacteria and other microorganisms break down the oil. We’re going to have this ongoing problem in the Gulf, which hasn’t been extraordinarily healthy anyway because of these dead zones from chemicals and fertilizers that have come down the Mississippi and created these areas with very little oxygen.”

BP’s stock rose yesterday by 7 percent, closing at $38.92 after falling 38 percent from its 52-week high of $62.38 at the start of the year. In spite of clean-up costs, the company’s liability for claims and the possibility of an indictment, some are now predicting a bull run.

With additional reporting by Michelle Hirsch.

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