Friday, July 16, 2010

Gulf Coasters Don't Believe BP Stopped Leak

NEW ORLEANS -- Many Gulf Coast residents don't believe it. Some accuse BP of making it up. And even those convinced that the oil leak has finally been stopped are tempered in their relief, aware that their environmental nightmare is far from over.

"It's a beautiful thing that it's shut off," trumpeter Shamarr Allen said as he stood on the sidewalk in the Musicians' Village in New Orleans' Upper Ninth Ward. "But there's still a lot of years of cleaning. There's going to be a lot of no fishing still. It's only the beginning of a long road that we have to travel. It's only the first step."

Reaction to the news that BP PLC had cut off the flow from the blown well nearly three months after an oil-rig explosion was marked with deep distrust of the oil giant. Gulf Coast residents have suffered from months of false starts and dashed hopes, failed "top kills" and abortive "junk shots," containment domes and "top hats," as they watched the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history foul their shores and eat into their livelihoods.

"It's a (expletive) lie," shouted Stephon LaFrance, one of several oil-stained oystermen standing around Delta Marina in marshy Plaquemines Parish. "I don't believe they stopped that leak. BP's trying to make their self look good."

Sitting on a boat, his cousin, Louie Randy Barthelemy, looked up and said: "BP's trying to manipulate the media."

"It doesn't mean anything," Craig St. Amant said as he tried to sell tours to passers-by on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "They tell you what they want you to hear. I don't think they're being truthful in saying what they're saying."

Even those who believed what they were seeing on the live video feeds from the school of submersibles surrounding the damaged well head were having a hard time getting excited about this milestone.

At a dock in Hopedale, La., Roy Campo's crew was unloading and boxing blue crabs — their first in about a week because of closures. When they heard the news, the most the men could muster was a nod.

"The oil's still out there, so it'll be a while," said Campo, 50, of St. Bernard.

Deckhand Manuel Meyer grinned, but his tone was somber.

"It feels good, but I mean, the damage is already done. That's the problem," said Meyer, 38. "I mean, they can clean it up, but they finding oil popping up everywhere, and how did it get where it's at? ... It's gonna continue for several years, several years, and it ain't gonna do nothing but get worse before it gets better."

Others on the Gulf Coast do believe that their region has finally turned a corner in this creeping disaster.

"It's a huge relief," said Geoffrey Lane, 43, a St. Charles landscaper who was visiting Pensacola Beach, Fla. "At least now their focus can switch to get what's there out of the water."

"It's freaking wonderful," said Gary Kiger, a 39-year-old shrimper from Cutoff, La.

Kiger has been involved in the cleanup from the beginning, working and living on his boat out in the Gulf. Looking down a pier of trawlers loaded with boom and vacuum equipment instead of nets, Kiger said he was ready to get back to hauling shrimp.

"It's a living hell, you know. Everywhere you look there's oil and tar," he said. "It'll drive you crazy, make you want to put a bullet in your head."

The cap placed on the blown well in the past week is only a temporary fix. BP's permanent fix, a relief well, is still days or even weeks from being completed, and a hurricane in the wrong place could set that timetable back.

"We need to be cautious here," said BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles. He said the capped well is "a great sight, but it's far from the finish line."

And let's face it: If BP CEO Tony Hayward said it was raining, most Gulf Coast residents would stick their heads out the window to check for themselves.

"Let's wait to see what an outside source has to say about the leak," a man named Rick Cortez posted on the Facebook page called "The 1,000,000 people who wonder why BP's still in charge of the oil spill." ''BP (equals) ZERO credibility!!"

Some of the doubts that the leak has really been stopped appear to have sprung from glitches in the live feed from the Gulf floor. Some people complained that the video went out just as the oil stopped flowing, but an Associated Press reporter in Houston was able to view live footage of the shutoff the moment it happened Thursday — 2:25 p.m. CT.

For several days surrounding the cap operation, the 15 undersea camera feeds available through a link on BP's website have worked intermittently, at best. Sometimes, the feeds were hazy or hard to see. Other times, they were blank altogether.

BP said feeds were lost for periods of time because it had to move the cameras and robots out of the way for some of the preparations for the well integrity test.

There also has been a great demand among journalists and other viewers on the Web for a glimpse at the underwater operation. As a result, the increased number of people trying to link to the site surely caused it to freeze up from time to time.

Buras bartender Amy Hooks stopped watching the feeds a long time ago.

"I used to watch it every day, all day," the 32-year-old said. "I'm tired of getting my hopes shot down. It really hurts. It hurts to see all the local people not being able to do what they love to do."


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