BP well plugged, but gulf residents still grapple with effects

By Harry R. Weber
Associated Press / September 19, 2010

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ON THE GULF OF MEXICO — The final plugging of BP’s blown-out oil well brings one piece of the catastrophe that began five months ago to an anticlimactic end. After all, the gusher was temporarily capped in July.

But it was an important milestone for the still-weary residents of the Gulf Coast — an assurance that not so much as a trickle of oil will ever seep from the well that already has ruined so much.

The disaster began April 20, when an explosion killed 11 workers, sank a drilling rig, and led to the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

Crews had already pumped in cement to seal the well from the bottom, and officials said yesterday that it had set. Once a pressure and weight test was finished, officials expected to confirm whether the well would hold permanently. That announcement was due early today.

People who rely on the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline for their livelihoods, though, know the disaster is far from over. They are left to rebuild amid the businesses destroyed by shorelines and fishing grounds that were tainted by crude. Even where the seafood is safe, fishermen struggle to sell it to consumers who fear that it’s toxic.

News that the well would soon be declared dead brought little comfort to people such as Sheryl Lindsay, who owns Orange Beach Weddings, which provides beach ceremonies on Alabama’s coast.

She said she lost about $240,000 in business because of the spill as nervous brides-to-be canceled their weddings all summer long and even into the remainder of the year. So far, she has only received about $29,000 in BP compensation.

“I’m scared that BP is going to pull out and leave us hanging with nothing,’’ Lindsay said.

The well spewed 206 million gallons of oil until the gusher was first stopped in mid-July with a temporary cap. Mud and cement were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to be removed. But officials will not declare it dead until it is killed from the bottom.

Even aboard the Development Driller III — the ship that drilled the relief well and allowed crews to pump in the cement for the plug — celebrations were muted.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because we lost 11 men out here,’’ said Rich Robson, the offshore installation manager on the DDIII vessel.

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