Winds and waves calmed Tuesday as masses of oil lurked offshore and tension built along the Gulf Coast's beaches and bayous as people watched and waited for the weather and ocean currents to determine where the slick would finally come ashore.
So far only oil sheens have reached into some coastal waters, and the oil's slow progress despite an uncapped seafloor gusher was allowing crews and volunteers to lay boom in front of shorelines. That effort was stymied by choppy seas into the weekend but the calmer weather should help.
"You mentally want to push it back to the west, and then you feel guilty for doing so," said Jan Grant, manager at the St. George Inn on St. George Island, Fla., about the path the spill might take.
BP PLC has been unable to shut off the undersea well spewing 200,000 gallons a day, but crews have reported progress with a new method for cutting the amount of oil that reaches the surface. They're using a remotely operated underwater vehicle to pump chemicals called dispersants into the oil as it pours from the well, to break it up before it rises. Results were encouraging but the approach is still being evaluated, BP and Coast Guard officials said.
Several river boat pilots said the edge of the oil slick Monday was 15 to 20 miles off the Southwest Pass, where ships headed to New Orleans enter the Mississippi. The latest satellite image of the slick, taken Sunday night, indicates that it has actually shrunk since last week, but that only means some of the oil has gone underwater.