WRAPUP 2-On Florida trip, Obama vows to restore oil-hit Gulf

* Obama: delays in oil spill claim payments unacceptable

* Trip aims to get more tourists to visit Florida

* Allen says BP to get go-ahead to finish relief well soon
(Adds Obama quotes, Allen comments)

By Ross Colvin

PANAMA CITY, Fla., Aug 14 (BestGrowthStock) – Declaring Gulf Coast
beaches “open for business,” U.S. President Barack Obama
visited Florida on Saturday and pledged to restore the economy
and the environment of the region damaged by the BP Plc (BP.L: )
(BP.N: ) oil spill.

Obama, on his fifth visit to the area since BP’s deep-sea
well in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured in April, held talks with
local business owners to hear their concerns about the impact
of the world’s worst offshore oil spill.

“Oil is no longer flowing into the Gulf, and it has not
been flowing for a month. But I’m here to tell you that our job
is not finished, and we are not going anywhere until it is,” he
said. “That is a commitment my administration is going to
keep.”

No oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since July 15,
when BP placed a tight-fitting cap over the broken Macondo
well, which has spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil
since April 20. The British company last week injected cement
into the top of the well to seal it.

But, officials say they will not declare victory until
completion of a relief well that is being drilled 13,000 feet
(4,000 metres) beneath the seabed and is now just feet away
from its target. More cement will be pumped in via the well.

<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

For full spill coverage http://link.reuters.com/hed87k

Special report on new BP CEO Dudley [ID:nN29102489]

Graphic on relief well http://link.reuters.com/xes52n

Breakingviews [ID:nLDE6740LL]

Political risk factbox on the U.S. [ID:nN02255831]

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The president and his family are on a weekend trip to
Panama City as part of a drive to encourage more tourists to
visit Florida’s famous white sand beaches, which have suffered
only minor damage from the spill, mostly in the form of
scattered tar balls and small oil patches.

“I also want to point out that as a result of the cleanup
effort, beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean and safe and
open for business,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons
Michelle, Sasha, and I are here,” he said, referring to his
wife and youngest daughter.

RELIEF WELLS

Obama’s approval ratings have been dented by public
discontent, especially in Gulf Coast communities, over his
administration’s response to the spill.

It came under fire early on in the crisis for appearing to
cede too much responsibility for management of the spill to BP,
which repeatedly tried to downplay the size of the disaster.
The administration has struggled to shake off that perception
despite scrambling to try to recover lost ground.

Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top government
official overseeing the spill, said the company will get the
go-ahead to finish the relief well but is doing a last batch of
testing and planning first.

The testing is meant to make sure BP is prepared to deal
with the risk of excessive pressure building up in the well
during the final effort to kill it, Allen told a teleconference
news briefing. The go-ahead could come by Tuesday, he said.

Obama had come under pressure to spend part of his summer
vacation in the Gulf region to show solidarity with the
thousands of people in the fishing and tourist industries whose
livelihoods have been threatened by the spill.

While Florida escaped largely unscathed, other states such
as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were hard hit and are the
focus of BP’s cleanup operations.

Leaking oil seeped into ecologically sensitive wetlands and
marshes, soiled miles of beaches and forced the closure of rich
fishing grounds.

Obama highlighted the cleanup efforts in his remarks.

“Now, as a result of the massive cleanup operation that has
already taken place, a recent report by our top scientists
found that the majority of oil has now evaporated or dispersed,
or it’s been burned, skimmed, or recovered from the wellhead,”
he said. “But I won’t be satisfied until the environment has
been restored, no matter how long it takes.”

CLAIMS, TOURISM

The president also said any delays by BP or officials in
paying claims to individuals affected by the spill were
“unacceptable.”

Hotel owners, tour operators and other businesses have
submitted thousands of damages claims to BP, claiming that the
spill has kept many tourists away during the lucrative summer
season. The British company has set up a $20 billion fund to
handle the claims.

The first family’s trip to Panama City will likely be a
boost for local tourism officials, who have been trying to
counter the perception that Florida’s beaches were sullied by
the oil that blackened other parts of the Gulf coastline.

“I think it’s wonderful because we could not buy that kind
of marketing,” Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst told the
local News Herald daily ahead of Obama’s visit.

Florida’s nearly 1,200-mile (1,900 km) shoreline is a major
attraction in the Sunshine State’s $60 billion-a-year tourism
industry, and Panama City boasts it is the most popular spring
break destination for college students in the United States.
(additional reporting by Bruce Nichols in Houston; writing by
Ross Colvin and Jeff Mason; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

WRAPUP 2-On Florida trip, Obama vows to restore oil-hit Gulf