Locals to BP: Don’t Leave Town Yet


HOPEDALE, La.—Jittery local officials are trying to stop BP PLC from removing some of the equipment and workers the company deployed along the Gulf Coast to cope with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as it prepares to start sealing its damaged oil well for good on Tuesday.

Though the leak was stopped after the well was capped temporarily in mid-July, elected officials in several Louisiana parishes say manpower and equipment must remain there because the true scope of the disaster is still not understood.

The conflict is just one more sign that though the spill itself may be ending, the clean-up and recovery effort is likely to be drawn-out and fraught with disagreements among the state, local, federal and corporate officials involved, as well as the thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives have been turned upside down by the oil spill.

Craig Taffaro, president of St. Bernard Parish, has issued an executive order to stop any transfer of clean-up equipment out of the parish, which lies east of New Orleans. Last week he authorized BP to move seven vessels out of his area, but he now says he wants them back.

“We’re not interested in hoarding equipment or resources,” he said in an interview. But the parish is concerned that BP’s plans to dial back on its response are arbitrary, he said, adding that while oil may no longer be easy to see, “that doesn’t quantify how much is left.”

The more than 200 vessels employed in St. Bernard’s response effort are still capturing between 5 and 20 barrels of oil a day, he added. The leaking well spewed more than 5 million five million barrels into the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11.

On Friday, Plaquemines Parish sheriff’s deputies pulled over a truck convoy seen carrying the containment equipment called boom out of the province—but let the trucks roll after finding out the boom was defective, according to a statement by the parish.

BP’s incoming chief executive, Bob Dudley, said Friday that some short-term responses to the spill are less necessary now that oil is no longer flowing into the Gulf because the well was capped last month.

“Where there is no oil on the beaches, you probably don’t need people walking up and down in Hazmat suits,” he said. But he stressed that the company’s long-term commitment to the Gulf Coast’s recovery has not dimmed.

More than 32,000 people and 4,400 vessels are part of the response effort all over the Gulf Coast, including thousands of commercial fishermen hired by BP to collect oil and lay boom.

Some have already begun to be phased out, according to shrimper Acy Cooper, who said Sunday that his team has been reduced from 21 boats to about nine. “This is too soon to be cutting back because there’s too much oil out there,” he said.

But BP spokesman Tom Mueller said that “as there is less oil on the water, fewer vessels are needed to chase that oil.” Resources will remain available if needed, he said.

On Sunday, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the federal point man for the spill, told reporters that he is issuing a letter formally approving BP’s plans to try to pump drilling fluid and cement into the top of the well in what is known as a “static kill.”

The procedure, which has been in the works for weeks, could begin late Monday, though officials from BP and the government say Tuesday is more likely.

Adm. Allen on Sunday said workers would pump drilling fluid into the well very slowly to avoid damaging the well, and that engineers should know within hours whether the procedure is working. No matter what happens, Mr. Allen said, BP will proceed with a relief well, which will intersect the Deepwater Horizon well deep beneath the sea floor and plug up the well from the bottom.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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