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BP ready to scale back oil cleanup

BILOXI, Miss. —BP's new boss says it's time for a scale back in cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Federal officials say there is no way the crude could reach the East Coast. And fishing areas are starting to reopen.

There were several signs Friday that the era of thousands of oil-skimming boats and hazmat-suited beach crews is giving way to long-term efforts to clean up, compensate people for their losses and understand the damage wrought. Local fishermen are doubtful, however, and say oil remains a bigger problem than BP and the federal government are letting on.

Other people contend the impact of the spill has been overblown, given that little oil remains on the Gulf surface. Bob Dudley, who heads BP's oil spill recovery and will take over as CEO in October, rejected those claims.

"Anyone who thinks this wasn't a catastrophe must be far away from it," he said in Biloxi, where he announced that former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt will be supporting BP's Gulf restoration work.

Efforts to permanently plug the blown-out well had been expected to begin as early as Sunday, but the government's point man for the spill said Friday that those plans hit a snag.

Crews found debris in the bottom of the relief well that ultimately will be used to plug the leak for good, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said. The debris must be fished out before crews can begin a procedure known as a static kill that they hope will make the rest of the job easier.

Removing it will take 24 to 36 hours and likely push the kill back to Tuesday, Allen said.

Once the relief well is ready, crews can begin the static kill, in which mud, and possibly cement, are pumped in through the temporary cap. The better that procedure seals the blown-out well, the easier it will be to plug it forever by pumping in cement from below using the relief well. The blown-out well could be killed for good by late August, though a tropical storm could set the timetable back.

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