PENSACOLA BEACH - One of the world's most beautiful beaches has become both a health hazard and a major eyesore as the Gulf oil spill disaster moves into a third month.
Thick sheets of oil washed ashore on Wednesday, prompting Escambia County officials to issue health and swimming warnings for portions of Pensacola Beach.
Governor Charlie Crist has visted the area several times following the Deepwater Horizon explosion. This time, it was a much different sight. "It's pretty ugly. There's no question about it," Crist said. "It does break your heart."
The oil reeked as it baked in the afternoon heat on a beach that looked as if it had been paved with a 6-foot-wide ribbon of asphalt.
Some of the oil mass stretches three miles. Cleanup crews used sifting trays, slotted shovels and nets in a daunting attempt to remove the gooey mess.
"This used to be a place where you could come and forget about all your cares in the world," said Nancy Berry, who fought back tears as she watched her two grandsons play in the sand far from the shore.
Meanwhile, A necropsy will be performed to determine the cause of death for an oily young dolphin found beached in a national park in the panhandle area.
Wildlife officers tried to revive the marine mammal in shallow waters after a family found it Wednesday in the sands in the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard and BP unified command center in Mobile, Alabama, the dolphin died as it was transported to a rehabilitation center in Panama City. Authorities told the Pensacola News Journal that the dolphin "had some oil on it" but it wasn't clear why the animal beached itself.
A tourist from Arkansas said she and other beachgoers scraped oil off the dolphin with their hands before wildlife officers arrived. Christy Travis said they "had oil all over us."
A cap was back in place on BP's broken oil well after a deep-sea blunder forced crews to temporarily remove what has been the most effective method so far for containing some of the massive Gulf of Mexico spill.
Engineers using remote-controlled submarines repositioned the cap late Wednesday after it had been off for much of the day. It had captured 700,000 gallons of oil in 24 hours before one of the robots bumped into it late in the morning.
Bob Dudley, BP's new point man for the oil response, said crews had done the right thing to remove the cap because fluid seemed to be leaking and could have been a safety hazard.
The logistics coordinator onboard the ship that has been siphoning the oil told The Associated Press that the system was working again but it would take a little time before for the system to "get ramped back up." He asked not to be identified by name because he was not authorized to provide the information.
"It's a setback, and now we will go back into operation and show how this technology can work," Dudley said before the system was working again.
While the cap was off, clouds of black oil gushed unchecked again at up to 104,000 gallons per hour, though a specialized ship at the surface managed to suck up and incinerate 438,000 gallons.
The oil-burning ship is part of an armada floating at the site of the rogue well some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, and the scene below the surface is no less crowded. At least a dozen robotic submarines dangle from ships at the surface on mile-long cables called "umbilicals," with most of the undersea work taking place within a few hundred yards of the busted well.
The Obama administration was plotting its next steps after U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans overturned a moratorium on new drilling. In court papers, the Justice Department said it has asked a judge to delay the ruling. The Interior Department imposed the moratorium last month, halting approval of any new permits for deepwater projects and suspending drilling on 33 exploratory wells.
Feldman, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, has reported extensive investments in the oil and gas industry, including owning less than $15,000 of Transocean stock, according to financial disclosure reports for 2008, the most recent available. He did not return calls seeking more information about his investments.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would issue a new order within the next few days imposing a moratorium that eliminates any doubt it is needed and appropriate.
"It's important that we don't move forward with new drilling until we know it can be done in a safe way," he told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.
Several companies, including Shell and Marathon Oil, said they would await the outcome of any appeals before they resume drilling.
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