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Six months after oil spill, much remains unknown

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Posted: Oct 20, 2010 3:30 PM
Source: Associated Press

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Topics: crude, stop, cap, Gulf, oil, spill, impact, uncertainty, environment, economy, government

The crude has stopped gushing and coastlines are largely clear of the thick goo that washed ashore for months, but the impact of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history will linger for years.

Six months after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion, the environment and economy of the northern Gulf of Mexico region remain in a state of uncertainty.

It could be years before the spill's effects are understood. The science is largely scattered about what the roughly 200 million gallons of oil that spewed from BP PLC's blown-out well will mean for the animals and plant life that inhabit one of the world's most diverse bodies of water.

The government has reopened about 90 percent of Gulf federal waters to fishing and said all seafood caught in the newly opened areas is safe to eat.

However, the commercial fishing industry remains in turmoil, suffering from an acute image problem. Loads of shrimp and fish are hauled in, but processors are finding little demand from a wary public.

The government said much of the oil is now gone from the Gulf, even though independent researchers said they are finding significant amounts of it below the sea’s surface and on the ocean floor. Oil is also still buried in the sand on beaches across the coast, and crude continues to plague some of Louisiana’s shores.

A $20 billion BP compensation fund has so far paid out nearly $1.5 billion to business owners and fishermen suffering from a summer of lost revenues, but many are still waiting for checks. BP will be facing billions of dollars in fines once a damage assessment is complete.

The federal government quickly imposed new regulations on businesses following the spill. It recently lifted a moratorium on deep water drilling in the Gulf, but it could be weeks before rigs that are able to meet the tougher standards can get back to work.

The danger of a future catastrophe persists as oil companies continue to drill in deep water, even though many measures that could help head off future spills are not yet in place.

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