Is Gulf Cleanup Finished?

On Tuesday night, BP said that the “active cleanup” of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill had been brought “to a close.” Later Tuesday night, the Coast Guard said the response to the spill isn’t over yet, “not by a long shot.”

The dueling press releases came out just before the fourth anniversary of the April 20, 2010, blowout on BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire and sank, 11 workers were killed and more than 4 million barrels of crude spilled into the gulf.

BP, which has vowed to “make things right,” said it issued its press release because the Coast Guard ended “patrols and operations” along the final three miles of Louisiana shoreline, capping a four-year effort that BP said cost more than $14 billion. From now on, the Coast Guard and BP will not be scouring the coast for oil, but rather responding to specific reports of oil washing ashore.

BP said it wanted to note the “milestone” and said nearly 4,400 miles had been surveyed, with teams detecting oiling on 1,104 miles and doing at least some cleanup on 778 miles.

But Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, the federal on-scene coordinator of the Deepwater Horizon response, sought to stress that the switch to what he called a “middle response” process “does not end cleanup operations.”

“Our response posture has evolved to target re-oiling events on coastline segments that were previously cleaned,” said Sparks. “But let me be absolutely clear: This response is not over - not by a long shot.”

BP has been trying to bring the oil spill episode to a close and circumscribe costs that so far have reached $27 billion. Litigation over economic damages and federal fines under the Clean Water Act continues in New Orleans. The company has set aside roughly $42 billion for total costs.

At its April 10 annual meeting, BP’s chief executive Bob Dudley said, “We have looked to do the right thing by those who were affected by the accident and spill. But also to do the right thing by our investors when it became clear that the system for compensating claimants was subject to a considerable number of unfounded claims.”

— Washington Post