Obama Pledges to Restore Gulf, BP Struggles to Control Oil Spill

VENICE, Louisiana, May 3, 2010 (ENS) – “Every American affected by this spill should know this – your government will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to stop this crisis,” said President Barack Obama on Sunday after he viewed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and spoke with Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

“This is one of the richest and most beautiful ecosystems on the planet, and for centuries its residents have enjoyed and made a living off the fish that swim in these waters and the wildlife that inhabit these shores,” Obama said. “This is also the heartbeat of the region’s economic life. And we’re going to do everything in our power to protect our natural resources, compensate those who have been harmed, rebuild what has been damaged, and help this region persevere like it has done so many times before.”

President Barack Obama pledges unceasing effort to cleanse the Gulf of Mexico. May 2, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

“That’s a commitment I’m making as President of the United States, and I know that everybody who works for the federal government feels the exact same way,” he said.

Emphasizing his administration’s all-hands-on-deck response to protect the coastline of the Gulf states, Obama stated once again that BP will be held accountable for the costs associated with the explosion and fire that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico April 22, leaving five Gulf coast states from Texas to Florida facing an environmental and economic disaster.

BP had leased the rig from Transocean Ltd. and had finished drilling a test well 18,000 feet below the sea floor. On April 20, a contract crew from Halliburton was poised to close the well with a cement plug when the blowout occurred, leaving 11 of the 126 crewmembers aboard missing and presumed dead and 17 others injured.

A series of valves at the wellhead, called a blowout preventer, failed to function, allowing oil to gush unchecked from the broken wellhead at an estimated rate of at least 5,000 barrels a day. Much of BP’s effort since the rig sank has been focused on manipulating remotely operated subs in repeated unsuccessful attempts to close those valves.

Plane sprays chemical dispersants on Deppwater Horizon oil in the gulf, which turns the oil orange. (Photo by Wescoll)

But BP said today in a statement that the actions the company has taken to date on the blow out preventer “have not resulted in any observed reduction in the rate of flow of oil.”

“Currently, the most advanced technology available is being used to try and stop a leak that is more than 5,000 feet under the surface. Because this leak is unique and unprecedented, it could take many days to stop,” Obama said. “That’s why we’re also using every resource available to stop the oil from coming ashore and mitigating the damage it could cause.”

The nonprofit Republicans for Environmental Protection said today that neither the Obama administration nor British Petroleum should be allowed to dodge tough questions about the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill by claiming that such an accident was unprecedented.

“An offshore oil well blowout last August that spewed oil into the Timor Sea unabated for more than two months not only provided ample warning that such a blowout could occur, it exposed serious vulnerabilities in the oil industry’s ability to respond,” said David Jenkins, REP vice president for government and political affairs.

“Have the administration or BP implemented any new safeguards with respect to offshore drilling operations or oil spill response as a result of the Timor Sea blowout? If so, what were they? If not, why not? These questions deserve answers,” Jenkins said.

Other environmental groups are calling on President Obama to reverse his March 31 approval of more offshore oil drilling in the Arctic, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and along the Atlantic coast.

The administration also approved new offshore oil drilling by Shell Oil in the Arctic to begin this summer, over the objections of government wildlife scientists and the opposition of conservation groups who warn that no technologies exist to clean up oil spills in icy waters. Litigation against that approval is ongoing.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward, left, and Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen plan their response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Photo courtesy USCG)

In an attempt to control the Gulf spill, BP today began drilling a new relief well half a mile from the site of the sunken Deepwater Horizon, hoping to intercept the oil flow and take pressure off the broken wellhead. But it could take up to three months to drill down to 18,000 feet and in the meantime half a million barrels of oil could have been released.

Meanwhile, BP will lower several large containers over the damaged wellhead and the two breaks in the pipe that once connected it with the sunken rig. The captured oil would then be piped to the surface and collected aboard a barge. The containers should be in place by next Sunday, but lowering them into place is tricky and there is no guarantee that they will work.

Today, nearly 3,000 people are responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife. About 200 vessels are responding on-site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated submarines, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.

Nine staging areas are now set up to protect shoreline in all potentially affected Gulf Coast states – five in Louisiana at Venice, Port Sulphur, Shell Beach, Slidell and Port Fourchon; two in Mississippi at Biloxi and Pascagoula; one in Alabama at Dauphin Island; and one at Pensacola, Florida.

More than 156,000 gallons of chemical dispersant have been deployed and an additional 230,000 gallons are available.

Hundreds of thousands of feet of containment boom have been deployed to contain the spill, and more than 500,000 feet is available, but rough seas have pushed some of the boom up on shore rendering it ineffective.

NOAA is restricting fishing for a minimum of 10 days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, from Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay.

The oil spill has convinced several governors to withdraw their support for offshore oil drilling. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, on Sunday withdrew his support for the controversial Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling project.

Schwarzenegger said, “My support for the T-Ridge project here in California was based on numerous studies making me feel that it was safe to drill, also the support from environmental community and the commitment to permanently remove the platforms.”

“Despite those studies and support, all of you have seen when you turn on the television the devastation in the Gulf and I’m sure that they also were assured that it is safe to drill,” said the governor. “I see on TV the birds drenched in oil and the fishermen out of work and the massive oil spill and oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem.”

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at a public meeting in New Orleans, May 2, 2010. (Photo by New Orleans Lady)

“That will not happen here in California and this is why I’m withdrawing my support for the T-Ridge project,” Schwarzenegger said.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist, also a Republican, has also raised doubts about the environmental safety of offshore drilling.

Today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and seven other senior members of the Obama administration met with BP chief executive Tony Hayward and BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay at the Department of the Interior in Washington to discuss ongoing, coordinated response efforts.

All this week and next, Hayward and executives of the other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon incident will be questioned by U.S. lawmakers and regulators in Washington amidst growing criticism of the oil company’s response.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over offshore energy development, will hold a hearing May 6 to investigate the Deepwater Horizon spill.

On May 12, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill. The top executives from Transocean, BP, Halliburton and Cameron, which supplied the blowout preventer, have been summoned to testify. The hearing will examine the adequacy of the companies’ safety measures and emergency response to the incident, and the status of recovery efforts.

  • Report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information: 866-448-5816
  • Submit alternative response technology, services or products: 281-366-5511
  • Submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system: 281-366-5511
  • Submit a claim for damages: 800-440-0858
  • Report oiled wildlife: 866-557-1401

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