PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - BP fumbled its latest underwater
experiment with the wild Gulf gusher - just like every other
endeavor the company has tried to fix the nation's worst oil spill.
First, a 100-ton, four-story box couldn't contain the spill
because icelike crystals clogged the top. Then, a straw-like device
that actually did capture crude was inconsistent at best. The
supposed top kill - shooting heavy mud and junk into the well -
couldn't overcome the pressure of the oil. And the most recent
risky gambit ran into trouble a mile under the sea Wednesday when a
diamond-tipped saw became stuck after slicing through about half of
the blown-out well.
It took BP 12 hours to free the saw, and the company hopes to
use giant shears similar to an oversized garden tool to snip off
the pipe. However, the cut won't be as clean if successful, and a
looser fitting cap will have to be placed over the spill.
No timetable was given for when that might start, a familiar
refrain in this six-week-old disaster.
So far, each novel attempt has dragged on and misfired. All
along, the company has been drilling a relief well, the best option
at stopping the gusher - but it's still two months away.
Since the biggest oil spill in U.S. history began to unfold
April 20 with an explosion that killed 11 workers aboard an
offshore drilling rig, crude has fouled some 125 miles of Louisiana
coastline and washed up in Alabama and Mississippi. The well has
leaked anywhere from 21 million to 45 million gallons by the
The latest attempt to stop it, the so-called cut-and-cap method,
is considered risky because slicing away a section of the
20-inch-wide riser could remove kinks in the pipe and temporarily
increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent.
And the situation on the water's surface becomes more dire with
Oil drifted perilously close to the Florida Panhandle's famous
sugar-white beaches, and crews on the mainland were doing
everything possible to limit the catastrophe. Coast Guard Adm. Thad
Allen, the nation's point man for the spill, directed BP to pay for
five additional sand barrier projects in Louisiana. Boats were also
sent packing east, along with four helicopters to help skimmers
spot oil threatening Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida coast.
As the edge of the slick drifted within seven miles of
Pensacola's beaches, emergency workers rushed to link the last in a
miles-long chain of booms designed to fend off the oil. They were
slowed by thunderstorms and wind before the weather cleared in the
Forecasters said the oil would probably wash up by Friday,
threatening a delicate network of islands, bays and white-sand
beaches that are a haven for wildlife and a major tourist
destination dubbed the Redneck Riviera.
"We are doing what we can do, but we cannot change what has
happened," said John Dosh, emergency director for Escambia County,
which includes Pensacola.
The effect on wildlife has grown, too.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 522 dead birds - at
least 38 of them oiled - along the Gulf coast states, and more than
80 oiled birds have been rescued. It's not clear exactly how many
of the deaths can be attributed to the spill.
Dead birds and animals found during spills are kept as evidence
in locked freezers until investigations and damage assessments are
complete, according to Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
"This includes strict chain-of-custody procedures and long-term
locked storage until the investigative and damage assessment phases
of the spill are complete," she wrote in an e-mail.
As the oil drifted closer to Florida, beachgoers in Pensacola
waded into the gentle waves, cast fishing lines and sunbathed, even
as a two-man crew took water samples. One of the men said they were
hired by BP to collect samples to be analyzed for tar and other
A few feet away, Martha Feinstein, 65, of Milton, Fla., pondered
the fate of the beach she has been visiting for years. "You sit on
the edge of your seat and you wonder where it's going," she said.
"It's the saddest thing."
Officials said the slick sighted offshore consisted in part of
"tar mats" about 500 feet by 2,000 feet in size.
County officials set up the booms to block oil from reaching
inland waterways but planned to leave beaches unprotected because
they are too difficult to defend against the action of the waves
and because they are easier to clean up.
"It's inevitable that we will see it on the beaches," said
Keith Wilkins, deputy chief of neighborhood and community services
for Escambia County.
Florida's beaches play a crucial role in the state's tourism
industry. At least 60 percent of vacation spending in the state
during 2008 was in beachfront cities. Worried that reports of oil
would scare tourists away, state officials are promoting
interactive Web maps and Twitter feeds to show travelers -
particularly those from overseas - how large the state is and how
distant their destinations may be from the spill.