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Gulf Leaders Wary Over Wavering On Final Plug

BP PlcHeads of StateWeather ReportsHeavy EngineeringThad Allen

With the oil well that had been spewing intothe Gulf of Mexico plugged from the top and BP PLC and federalofficials pondering whether the final plug, or "bottom kill," isneeded, local officials fear national disengagement from whatremains a crisis of unknown proportions.

Meanwhile, bad weather delayed work on the relief well beingdrilled into next week.

"This is going to be a long-term situation," Jefferson ParishCouncil Chairman John Young said. "I think it's way too early forthe federal government have a 'mission accomplished' type ofattitude."

Work on the final kill to the well has been postponed by badweather blowing through the region. Crews drilling relief wells tothe gusher have stopped their work, and will need about four daysto finish once the weather passes, retired Coast Guard Adm. ThadAllen said Wednesday.

Allen, the administration's point man on the spill, said thewell may not need to have heavy mud and cement pumped into it fromdeep underground after all. He said testing still needs to be doneon the well before a final decision is made.

BP and the federal government will check to see whether thecement pumped in through the top went down into the reservoir, cameback up and plugged the space between the inner piping and theouter casing. If so, the bottom kill might not be necessary.

"We think it's a low probability event, but we can't rule itout," Allen said.

Allen also hopes he may be able to step down from his post bylate September or early October, handing off the responsibility.Allen, who has served in the role since May 1, said he'll only dothat if the well is definitively shown to be in no danger ofleaking again.

The discussion of a possible departure, though, raised the ireof some officials who say Washington is too eager to turn the pageon the spill.

"Are they planning on closing up shop? Absolutely. Am I sadThad Allen is going to be gone? Absolutely not," said PlaqueminesParish President Billy Nungesser, who has criticized much of thegovernment's response as lacking a sense of urgency.

But Allen's departure, whenever it comes, may simply signal thatthe response has entered a new phase, going from crisis response tolong-term recovery, Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts said.

"Despite some of the unforeseen challenges of this event, Inever doubted his desire to get the source of oil stopped,"Roberts said of Allen.

Roberts said work is increasingly focused on restoration ofwetlands and beaches, and the recovery of the commercial andrecreational fishing industries, rather than stopping the flow ofoil, which was achieved last month with the cap.

"Whether or not this becomes an old story is totally up to themedia," Roberts said.

Meanwhile, the tropical depression that had threatened to turninto a tropical storm in the Gulf fell apart Wednesday, a day aftercrews drilling the final few feet of the relief well halted theirwork because of concerns about the weather.

Allen said Wednesday that suspending work at the wellhead whilethe storm passes will cost crews about 96 hours, meaning work onthe bottom kill won't be done until at least Monday or Tuesday.Heavy rain is still forecast for the Gulf into Thursday and he didnot say when the work might resume.

Government scientists estimate that almost three-quarters of theoil that spewed after the April 20 explosion of the offshoredrilling rig Deepwater Horizon has already been collected by thetemporary containment cap, cleaned up or chemically dispersed, ornaturally deteriorated.

Also Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., called on BPPLC to accept the government's estimate that 4.9 million barrels,or 206 million gallons, had spilled. The amount is importantbecause it could help determine what fines BP faces for the spill.

Markey sent a letter to the head of BP's U.S. operations tellinghim that the oil giant should legally own up to its obligations asone of the responsible parties.

Civil penalties can be levied under a variety of environmentalprotection laws, including fines of up to $1,100 for each barrel ofoil spilled. If BP were found to have committed gross negligence orwillful misconduct, the civil fine could be up to $4,300 perbarrel.

That means BP could face fines of up to $21 billion.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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