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Containment Cap Holds Steady as Work on Relief Wells Continues

July 16, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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With the new oil well containment cap in place for the past 24 hours and no new signs of oil leaking into the Gulf, President Obama called the news hopeful but reaffirmed the need for a permanent solution. Tom Bearden reports from Louisiana.
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JIM LEHRER: So far, so good. That was the word from the Gulf of Mexico today. There were no signs of new leaks a day after that ruptured BP well was capped. But engineers were monitoring the situation.

“NewsHour” correspondent Tom Bearden filed this report from Empire, Louisiana.

TOM BEARDEN: Underwater cameras at the wellhead showed a relatively peaceful scene, clear water with no oil leaking. The online video image was being watched from the Gulf to the White House.

President Obama sounded a hopeful note as he left for a weekend in Maine.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The new cap is good news. Either we will be able to use it to stop the flow or we will be able to use it to capture almost all of the oil until the relief well is done. But we’re not going to know for certain which approach makes sense until additional data is in.

TOM BEARDEN: At the same time, the president cautioned that the work is far from over.

BARACK OBAMA: I think it’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves here. You know, one of the problems with having this camera down there is that when the oil stops gushing, everybody feels like we’re done, and we’re not.

We won’t be done until we actually know that we’ve killed the well and that we have a permanent solution in place.

TOM BEARDEN: For its part, BP said it was encouraged. It said pressure is slowly rising inside the 75-ton cap, and there’s no evidence that it’s causing any new leaks under the seafloor.

In a conference call, company vice president Kent Wells said, “The pressures we have seen so far are consistent with the engineering analysis work that BP has done. It’s been a very steady build.”

Still, the oil giant was keeping a close watch on things at its command center in Houston and out in the Gulf itself.

BP’s CEO Doug Suttles spoke in Alabama late Thursday.

DOUG SUTTLES, COO, Global Exploration, BP: We will do lots of analysis to make sure that it looks like everything is as it should be. So, I think it’s going to be several more days. You know, we need to be cautious right now. It’s a great sight, but it’s far from the finish line.

TOM BEARDEN: Ultimately, if the cap does hold, BP could resume pumping oil up to surface ships.

In the meantime, the company said today it plans to resume work on the two relief wells being drilled to plug the damaged well for good.

Here at the Delta Marina in Empire, Louisiana, people are obviously happy the well has been capped. They’re even happier that some of the fishing grounds in this area have been reopened. That gives them hope that perhaps business may return to normal some time soon.

So far, only recreational fishing grounds have been reopened. That’s good news for marina manager Tony Jennings.

TONY JENNINGS, marina manager: We will see what happens. I like — I like that it’s capped, but we will find out more tomorrow, when people show up to go fishing, hopefully.

TOM BEARDEN: How will you know if they’re coming back?

TONY JENNINGS: Oh, 5:00 tomorrow morning, I will if there is a line or not.

(LAUGHTER)

TOM BEARDEN: The federal closure of commercial fishing waters has not been lifted. That means third-generation shrimper Louie Barthelemy is still unable to fish. He’s hoping BP will hire him to help with the cleanup.

LOUIE BARTHELEMY, shrimper: I was supposed to be working within a week. A BP representative called me from the boats of opportunity. So, hopefully, by this week, I will be working.

TOM BEARDEN: But you really would like to get back to fishing, I guess.

LOUIE BARTHELEMY: Oh, I would love to be that. I would rather be fishing than this. But it’s going to be a while before we get all this cleaned. If we don’t get out there and get all this cleanup, we ain’t going have no fishing. So, we have got to put all our efforts toward helping these people here clean this stuff up.

TOM BEARDEN: Tammy Wolfer is the cashier at the marina store. She and her husband own a shrimp boat, and she thinks it will be a long time before they can return to fishing.

TAMMY WOLFER, shrimp boat owner: Probably a good year. If we can get back to going good, then it will probably be at least a year before I get back up on my feet.

TOM BEARDEN: That must be hard to deal with.

TAMMY WOLFER: Yes, when I worked five years to rebuild after Katrina to get that boat back in the water, and can’t do nothing with it. It’s just sitting.

TOM BEARDEN: Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser echoed what everybody we talked to expressed: cautious optimism.

BILLY NUNGESSER, president, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: By no means are we finished, but we can see light at the end of the tunnel, although that’s a mighty long tunnel. We know we’re making progress. Today, for the first day since we started, we will actually take more oil out of the water than is being put in. And that’s a good thing.

TOM BEARDEN: Some people are worried, there has been so much bad publicity, that it will take a very long time to convince people to come back down here to take their vacations.

JIM LEHRER: Late today, the government’s point man on the spill said oil pressure readings at the wellhead are not yet ideal. Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the testing will continue for some hours yet.