‘One more run’ for relief well before moving in for kill, Allen says


(CNN) — The disaster of epic proportions in the Gulf of Mexico still is on track to be resolved at the end of this week, according to the federal point man in the region.

Now, the solution lies in precision calculations of minute proportion, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Monday.

Allen said the closer of two relief wells alongside the capped, formerly gushing BP well in the Gulf was 17,909 feet deep and less than 100 feet from intercepting the main well. Over the previous 72 to 96 hours, he said, crews had twice drilled for 30 feet at a time, then backed out and put wire down the pipe to gauge the exact location relative to the main well.

Allen said drillers would make “one more run,” and hoped to intercept, then pump cement into, the main well at the end of the week.

Crews may have to deal with inclement weather while drilling. Strong thunderstorms and gusty winds will be possible over the Macondo well starting on Wednesday, CNN meterologist Sean Morris said. The National Hurricane Center said a broad area of low pressure over southern Florida is forecast to move slowly northwestward into the Gulf and toward the north-central Gulf Coast this week.

Early Monday, BP, the oil company that operated the sunken well, released an updated tally on expenses associated with the cleanup and containment, which now stands at about $6.1 billion.

BP announced Monday that it has established a trust and made a $3 billion initial deposit of the previously announced $20 billion escrow account to pay “legitimate” claims arising from the April 20 Deepwater Horizon incident and the resulting oil and gas spill.

The oil giant named two trustees who will administer the account: John S. Martin, a former federal judge for the Southern District of New York, and Kent Syverud, dean of the Washington University School of Law.

Citigroup will serve as corporate trustee and paying agent for the account, BP said. Arrangements have been made for checks drawn on the fund to be cashed free of charge at any of the 160 Whitney National Bank branches across the Gulf Coast region, BP said.

The oil spill hasn’t just hurt BP’s bottom line — it’s inflicted heavy blows on Gulf coast industries like tourism and fishing.

Later Monday, a group of concerned St. Louis, Missouri, residents will leave on a caravan of support, spending money at small businesses along the Gulf Coast, using funds raised from around the country.

“We’ve learned of so many businesses in the Gulf region that are losing their customers, employees and dreams because of the impact on tourism,” organizer Dennis Gorg said in a written statement. “As a small business owner, I can’t imagine how I’d support the people who depend on me. We can do something. We can become tourists with a purpose.”

The caravan will travel through Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle, completing their trek on Friday. Group members plan to blog about their experience.

Allen told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that some parts of the region are beginning to see a recovery.

“It’s starting to happen already, but it’s happening incrementally, where the oil is not there now, where we’ve cleaned it up,” he said. “Some beaches are reopening. Fisheries are reopening. And that will happen as soon as we can, either by cleaning up the oil or having the areas tested through NOAA and FDA for seafood safety and so forth.”

A report from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration last week found three-quarters of the oil spilled between late April and mid-July has been collected, dispersed or evaporated. But Allen said, “We need to keep a steady hand at the tiller to keep the cleanup going.”

“It’s a catastrophe. It’s a catastrophe for the people of the Gulf, and it requires our attention until we get the job done,” he said.

The well erupted after an April 20 explosion aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that left 11 men dead. A temporary cap contained the spill on July 15, and nearly 3,000 barrels of heavy drilling mud and cement drove the oil back into the ocean floor last week.

The well gushed an estimated 53,000 barrels (2.3 million gallons) of oil per day before it was capped, with some of the oil ending up on beaches or in marshes. Fresh, green grass has begun growing again in some of the hardest-hit marshes of southern Louisiana, but oil continues to wash ashore in places.

Allen said Monday responders will be “redoubling” their efforts in the marshes.

“There’s a lot of clean-up working going on here, and that’s excellent,” Maura Wood of the National Wildlife Federation, told CNN last week. “But the tide keeps coming and going each and every day.”

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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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