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Gulf oil spill: BP pulls up boom as fishing areas reopen

July 30, 2010 | 11:54 am
Oil boom As large, visible oil slicks on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico disappear, BP is scaling back its clean-up, with fewer ships scouting for oil and fewer people scouring beaches for slicks. Crews are pulling up boom in areas no longer at risk, incoming BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley told reporters Friday.

“We haven’t seen oil flow in the gulf since the 15th of July,” Dudley told reporters at a televised press conference Friday in Biloxi, Miss. “You’ll see the evidence of a pullback because we have boom across the shores, all the way from Florida to Louisiana. Those only last for a certain number of tide cycles. So you’ll certainly see that pulling back.

“And where there is no oil on the beaches, you probably don’t need people walking up and down with hazmat suits. So you’ll see that kind of pullback,” Dudley said. “But commitment? Absolutely no pullback.”

Eleven million feet of boom have been deployed in the gulf, according to federal spill overseer Ret. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen in a Friday briefing. As it is pulled out, he said, some of it will be cleaned and stored for future use, and any damaged boom plastic will be recycled.

Some boom that was pulled back after a recent storm will not be redeployed in sensitive marshes because officials have determined it would cause more harm than good by mechanically disturbing biologically rich areas, Allen said.

Federal forecasters said Friday significantly less oil was being observed in aerial views of the gulf. The size of the oil slick has been reduced dramatically ever since a snug-fitting cap was installed atop the failed oil well 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Still, large, light oil slicks have been detected just south of the Mississippi River delta,  south of Barataria and Terrebonne bays, which have been among the areas hit worst by the oil spill.

Sticky, oily muck has continued pushing into sensitive marshes and wetlands, and local crews have been doing their best, with limited success, to suck up oil that has become glued to grasses and soft dirt that provide a home for birds, crabs and other wildlife. Dead and injured oiled birds continue to be found by biologists.

Nonetheless, there is evidence that the size of the oil slick on the gulf’s surface has diminished. Louisiana fisheries officials on Thursday, in coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, reopened most southwestern and eastern state coastal waters to commercial fin-fishing and shrimping, although fishing for crabs and oysters was still banned. Most of the federal waters, as well as Louisiana state waters south of the Mississippi River Delta and near the Mississippi border, remain closed to commercial fishing.

“We are confident all appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that seafood harvested from waters being opened ... is safe, and that gulf-seafood lovers everywhere can be confident eating and enjoying the fish and shrimp that will be coming out of this area,” said FDA chief Margaret Hamburg, who has been leading extensive testing of gulf seafood by chemical analysis and human sniffing.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in New Orleans and Margot Roosevelt in Los Angeles

Photo:The sun rises over barrier and absorbent boom in Bay St. Louis, Miss., in July 2010. Credit: Ann Heisenfelt / EPA

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