BILOXI, Miss. - BP's new boss said Friday that it was time for a "scaleback" in cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Federal officials said there was no way the crude could reach the East Coast. And fishing areas were starting to reopen.
There were several signs Friday that the initial phase of the spill was giving way to long-term efforts to clean up, compensate people for their losses and understand the damage wrought. Local fishermen were doubtful, and said oil remained a bigger problem than BP and the federal government were letting on.
But Bob Dudley, who heads BP's oil spill recovery and will take over as chief executive in October, called the spill a "catastrophe" and announced that former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt will be supporting BP's Gulf restoration work.
Efforts to permanently plug BP's blown-out well had been expected to begin Sunday, but crews found debris in the bottom of the relief well that will be used to plug the leak for good, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said. The debris must be fished out before any work can be done.
Relatively little oil remains on the surface of the Gulf, leaving less work for oil skimmers. Dudley said it's "not too soon for a scaleback" in the cleanup. He added there is "no pullback" in BP's cleanup commitment.
The House also approved a bill Friday to boost safety standards for offshore drilling, remove a federal cap on economic liability for spills, and impose new fees on oil and gas production. Democrats said it would increase drilling safety and crack down on oil companies. Republicans and some-oil state Democrats opposed the bill, calling it a federal power grab that would raise energy prices and kill American jobs.