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'Bottom kill' set to seal oil well for good, but worries abound in Louisiana

Louisiana residents are relieved that no more oil is spewing and that a 'bottom kill' to seal the well will begin soon. But they are also worried, about BP's commitment to a full cleanup and a report that most of the oil is gone.

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BP this week finished pumping mud and cement into the well that blew out after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Spokesman Max McGahan said Saturday that engineers were still waiting for the cement to harden so work could begin on drilling the final 100 feet of a relief well.

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When that relief well intersects the broken well, workers will pump more cement and mud in a "bottom kill" to seal the well permanently.

It may well prove to be a pivotal week for BP and Gulf Coast residents, but local officials are not ready yet to declare victory.

Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser, for one, used a sheriff’s department helicopter this week to make his own survey of nearby waters and took photographs of oil floating off the coast of the parish, which he distributed to the media. Mr. Nungesser says he will be meeting with BP representatives to ask for assurances that cleanup equipment would remain in the parish through hurricane season, so that local fishermen employed by BP’s "vessels of opportunity" program could continue cleaning up oil.

“I wish the oil was all gone tomorrow, but the fact is we don’t know that, and for us to pull out equipment prematurely is not right,” says Nungesser. “What happens if a large patch of oil from a tropical storm rolls it into the marsh?”

Larry Hooper, a charter boat captain in Plaquemines Parish employed as under the "vessels of opportunity" program, spent the week working with skimmer boats off the Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge. “I know there’s still oil because I was in it all day,” says Mr. Hooper. “An oiled tern that was out there floating on the water climbed onto the back of my boat, and state wildlife officers came out to pick it up. There is oil still out there. It’s dispersed, but it’s going to keep coming at us for a long time. Tar balls are on the beaches, and if you dig down you can find oil underneath the sand.”

Hooper, who used his 30-foot fishing boat for deep-sea charters before the spill, doesn’t know when he will return to his life as a sport fisherman. He and other charter captains recently turned down an offer by BP to sponsor three fishing tournaments in Plaquemines later this month. “BP wanted to turn around and say, ‘Look, we’ve got fishing tournaments going on here again. There’s no oil, everything’s fine,’ but we’re not going to do that,” he says. “We’re not going to help them make it all look good when we don’t even know what the conditions are yet. We have to wait and see for ourselves if the oil is out there and what the [chemical] dispersants are doing.”

Material from Associated Press was used in this report.

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