News that oil has stopped leaking from BP’s blown-out well into the Gulf of Mexico spread a wave of relief Thursday among coastal residents, but it failed to dispel concerns about the disaster’s long-term impact.
“I tell you what, we needed that,” said Jimmy Thibodaux, a resident of the small southern Louisiana town of Cut Off.
BP Plc conducted pressure tests on its blown-out well Thursday and said a cap had completely contained the flow for the first time since the leak began in April when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank.
“This is certainly welcome news. We are all breathing a sigh of relief right now. But we are still facing millions of gallons of oil lurking in the Gulf and headed to our shoreline,” said Connie Moran, mayor of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
“BP should not give up or slow down their efforts on cleaning up our islands, shores or inland marshes. The long-term affects are still yet to be seen,” Moran said.
Donna Stewart of Moss Point, Louisiana, was unwilling to place too much faith in a solution that could turn out to be temporary.
BP says its test of the cap will last up to 48 hours and it is not certain whether it will be used as a solution until August when it hopes a relief well will be completed.
“We have seen good followed by bad for months now. I just hope this is the beginning of a permanent good,” said Stewart.
For Bill Squigley, a fisherman from Biloxi, Mississippi, any optimism was premature after a series of failures that several times saw hopes for an end to the spill raised and then dashed.
“We are not going to stop watching and reading the news on this possible capping of the oil until we know for sure it is permanent. Who is to say it holds for a month and blows again?” he said.
Those disappointments have undermined faith in the British energy giant’s trustworthiness when it comes to explaining its own actions to deal with the leak, said Stan Wilbur, a community leader in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
“Will the cap hold? Will it blow again tomorrow? BP says it would take 48 hours but it is capped now. What can we rely on really … We do not know the real truth,” Wilbur said.
Gulf coast residents are the primary victims of the spill which has crippled the commercial fishing economy, the tourism and sport fishing industries as well as doing great harm to bird and marine life and fragile wetlands.
Political leaders also reacted with a mixture of caution and relief.
“Hallelujah. It’s a step in the right direction. Let’s hope the cap holds,” Florida Senator Bill Nelson told CNN.
Even if it turns out that the well’s cap is kept in place permanently and no further oil leaks, it will simply shift attention to the long-term harm that has already taken place, residents said.
“I hope it holds because this has been devastating for all of us here on the coast. Maybe we can get to the business of cleaning up the Gulf but it is going to take a long time,” said Mike Byrd, sheriff of Mississippi’s Jackson County.
Mildred Fazzio, 86, in Cut Off, said she was happy about the news, but it did not change her sense that ordinary residents were likely to suffer long-term harm because of the spill.
“By golly it’s negligence and it’s someone’s fault. And it’s the poor people who are going to pay for it,” said Fazzio.
(Additional reporting by Leigh Coleman in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; writing by Matthew Bigg; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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