WRAPUP 3-Obama swims in Gulf, says beaches open for business

* Trip aims to get more tourists to visit Florida beaches

* White House releases photo of Obama swimming in Gulf

* Allen says BP to get go-ahead to finish relief well soon
(Adds Obama swimming in Gulf, previous PANAMA CITY)

By Ross Colvin

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla., Aug 14 (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. President
Barack Obama went swimming off the coast of Florida on Saturday
and declared the Gulf area’s beaches “open for business,”
trying to show by example that a region hit by the BP oil spill
was safe for tourists to enjoy.

Obama, on his fifth visit to the region since BP Plc’s
(BP.L: ) (BP.N: ) deep-sea well in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured in
April, pledged to restore the economy and the environment in
the aftermath 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
told reporters after holding talks with local business owners.

“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 being drilled 13,000 feet (2.5
miles/4 km) beneath the seabed that is now just feet away from
its target. More cement is due to 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 an effort 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.

The White House later released a picture of Obama immersed
in the Gulf waters, playing with 9-year-old Sasha.

RELIEF WELLS

Obama’s U.S. public approval ratings have been dented by
public discontent, especially in Gulf Coast communities, over
his administration’s response to the spill. The administration
came under fire during the crisis for appearing to cede too
much responsibility for management of the spill to BP.

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.”

Obama said any delays by BP or officials in paying claims
to individuals affected by the spill are “unacceptable.”

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

Local tourism officials have been trying to counter the
perception that Florida’s beaches were sullied by the oil that
blackened other parts of the Gulf coastline.

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 Will Dunham)

WRAPUP 3-Obama swims in Gulf, says beaches open for business