'Nightmare well' dies, but challenges remain

Sep 19 2010 - 10:35pm

Images

(GERALD HERBERT/The Associated Press) A member of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's staff reaches into thick oil on June 15.
(GERALD HERBERT/The Associated Press) A member of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's staff reaches into thick oil on June 15.

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO --The "nightmare well" is dead. But the Gulf coast's bad dream is far from over.

Federal officials declared Sunday that the well where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded had finally been killed. Workers drilled a relief well into the damaged one and drove a cement stake deep into its oily, black heart.

Its official end came 11 years after Texaco first sank an exploratory well near that same spot 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, then moved on after finding it unprofitable. When BP PLC purchased the rights to explore for oil there in 2008, it held an in-house well-naming contest. The winning team chose the name Macondo, after the mythical town from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Carved out of a "paradise of dampness and silence," the Macondo of the story is a cursed place, a metaphor for the fate awaiting those too arrogant to heed warning signs. BP's name choice came to seem prescient last April 20.

That day, an explosion on the rig -- which had drilled the well and was in the process of capping it -- killed 11 men instantly and started a slow-motion disaster that has jeopardized the livelihoods of legions of fishermen, hotel and restaurant workers, drilling employees and others.

In the three months before a temporary cap stemmed the flow from the blown-out well, as much as 172 million gallons of oil and millions of cubic feet of natural gas spewed into Gulf waters.

People who rely on the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline for their livelihoods, though, know the disaster is far from over. They are left to rebuild amid the businesses destroyed by once-oil-coated shorelines and fishing grounds that were tainted by crude. Even where the seafood is safe, fishermen struggle to sell it to consumers fearful that it's toxic.

News that the blown-out well would soon be dead brought little comfort to people like Sheryl Lindsay, who owns Orange Beach Weddings, which provides beach ceremonies on Alabama's coast.

She said she lost about $240,000 in business as nervous brides-to-be canceled their weddings all summer long and even into the remainder of the year. So far, she has only received about $29,000 in BP compensation.

"I'm scared that BP is going to pull out and leave us hanging with nothing," Lindsay said.

The Gulf well spewed 206 million gallons of oil until the gusher was first stopped in mid-July with a temporary cap. Mud and cement were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to be removed. But officials did not declare it dead until it was killed from the bottom.

In Louisiana's coastal Plaquemines Parish, Guy Laigast was among three deputies setting up New Orleans Saints football garb Saturday along a fence at the sheriff's office training center, preparing for an annual employees' picnic. For him, news that the plug was nearly done meant little.

"They've still got tons of oil out there, so ..." he said, his voice trailing off. "I don't think it's going to solve all the problems. They've got a lot to go."

Librarian Donna Pobrica was working in an otherwise empty building in Belle Chasse serving as a polling place for a local election.

Pobrica said the spill "really killed the people down the road. Oysters were the main thing down here, and now it's gone."

Many of the area's oyster beds were wiped out when officials flooded the marshes with fresh water, hoping it would help keep oil out of the delicate wetlands. Oysters thrive in salt water.

For Tom Becker, a charter fishing boat captain in Biloxi, Miss., news that the well was nearly dead is too little, too late. His business has tanked, down more than 60 percent with $36,000 in lost revenue, not to mention the business he'll lose in the future.

"The phones just aren't ringing," Becker said. "The damage is done."

From Around the Web

  +