Oil disaster in Gulf seen as a distant memory

NEW ORLEANS — Reports of an oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico didn't faze residents of the coast, where small spills are spotted hundreds of times a year and many people have come to see last year's BP catastrophe as a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Gulf Coast fishermen are back on the water and businesses are again packed with tourists on sandy shores since the disaster that hit last summer, when BP PLC's well blew out of control, spooking tourists away from normally packed communities when beaches were left coated in crude.

BP said Thursday that the shiny substance floating on the water's surface didn't come from its operations, and officials said it had since dissipated. Reports of sheen are common: More than 200 were called in last year in an area far from BP's well where the new sheen was reported, and 13 were reported Wednesday alone off Louisiana's coast.

Residents say they aren't afraid of a disaster like the one last summer, when millions of gallons of crude spewed into the Gulf and many scientists and fishermen wondered if the region would ever recover.

"This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing this spill here, the big BP oil spill," said Rocky Ditcharo, a 45-year-old shrimp dock owner in Plaquemines Parish, the finger of land south of New Orleans where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf. He looked upon the oil industry favorably, even though last year's spill threatened to ruin his way of life.

"I'm not mad at the oil industry about what happened. You can't hate them unless they went out of their way to intentionally do something. Accidents happen. Nobody wants to kill off a bunch of wildlife, shrimp and fish."

Federal officials and oil companies were still investigating the source of the new sheen, which according to an initial anonymous report was from a leaking abandoned well.

Sheens are frequently reported in the Gulf, many of them small and a result of the 3,200 oil and gas drilling operations in the Gulf. Leaked fuel from ships can also create sheens, along with oil that naturally seeps from the seafloor or leaks from abandoned or plugged wells.