Oil Spill: Top Kill Continues, Obama Promises Gulf ‘Justice Will Be Done’

GRANDE ISLE, Louisiana, May 28, 2010 (ENS) – BP’s “top kill” attempt to shut down the leaking Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is proceeding as planned and, contrary to media reports, has not been stalled or suspended, a company representative told ENS today.

“We need to carry on for the next 24 to 48 hours, could be less – could be more,” said spokesman John Pack from the BP office in Houston, Texas. “It’s not accurate to say we’re suspending top kill.”

The company began pumping heavy drilling mud down into the damaged wellhead on Wednesday and has added several “junk shots” of bridging material, such as balls, tires and rubber pieces, in an effort to block the stream of oil and gas from flowing out into the gulf.

“It’s all part of the process,” said Pack. “You pump fluid down, you stop. You look at the pressure, you review what you’ve been doing with your mud – the flow rate, the density of the mud. You put bridging material in, you pump and then you review,” he explained.

“We can’t put an actual time when we’re going to complete this process,” said Pack.

As the top kill effort continues, President Barack Obama spent the day in Louisiana on his second visit to assess federal response to the oil spill. He met with LaFourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph; with members of Congress representing the Gulf states; with Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen; and with the governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.

News conference at Grand Isle Coast Guard Station. From left: Alabama Governor Bob Riley, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, President Barack Obama, Florida Governor Charlie Crist. (Photo courtesy Office of Governor Riley)

Calling it “the largest spill in American history,” President Obama said, “Right now, we’re still within the window where we don’t yet know the outcome of the highly complex top kill procedure that the federal government authorized BP to use to try to stop the leak.

“If it is successful, it would obviously be welcome news. If it’s not, a team of some of the world’s top scientists, engineers and experts, led by our Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, has for some time been exploring any and all reasonable contingency plans,” said Obama.

“But our response will continue with its full force regardless of the outcome of the top kill approach, because even if the leak was stopped today it wouldn’t change the fact that these waters still contain oil from what is now the largest spill in American history.”

“I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis,” Obama said. “I’m the President and the buck stops with me. So I give the people of this community and the entire Gulf my word that we’re going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe, to defend our natural resources, to repair the damage, and to keep this region on its feet.”

A vessel contracted by BP, and under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard, places containment boom along Barataria Bay, Louisiana. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

“Justice will be done for those whose lives have been upended by this disaster, for the families of those whose lives have been lost,” Obama said. “That is a solemn pledge that I am making.”

The government has stationed doctors and scientists across the five Gulf States to look out for people’s health and then to monitor any ill effects felt by cleanup workers and local residents, Obama said. “We’ve begun setting up a system to track these effects and ensure folks get the care that they need. And we’ve told BP that we expect them to pay for that, too.”

On eve of the Memorial Day weekend, Obama spoke for all the Gulf state governors, inviting Americans to visit the Gulf’s clean beaches. “One of the powerful ways that you can help the Gulf right now is to visit the communities and the beaches off of the coast. Except for three beaches here in Louisiana, all of the Gulf’s beaches at this moment are open, they are safe and they are clean.”

The President says to prepare for more oil washing up onshore “in accordance with input from folks down here,” he has directed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Admiral Allen to triple the manpower in places where oil has hit the shore or is within 24 hours of impact. He said that whatever Admiral Allen needs to respond will be provided.

Admiral Allen today authorized bulding a two-mile-long land barrier that may stop some of the oil from coming ashore in Louisiana as requested by Governor Bobby Jindal.

Oil clings to reeds in the mouth of the Mississippi River where it meets the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner courtesy Greenpeace)

The authorized segment of the state and coastal parish sand boom plan to protect Louisiana is on a two-mile gap of an island off Plaquemines Parish. The state’s total plan requests work on 24 segments totaling around 100 miles to protect the coast.

“We need this first project to be done as quickly as possible so work on the next five segments can get underway,” said Governor Jindal today. “This first segment is only two miles of a 100-mile sand boom plan.”

Governor Jindal said frustrated Louisiana officials have “started taking matters into our own hands.”

Last Friday, the governor redirected a dredge that was doing a coastal restoration of a barrier island in East Grand Terre near Grande Isle to build a 2.5 mile sand boom against the oil spill.

Today, the governor and local elected officials visited the state-directed dredging work to view the effectiveness of sand booming operations in preventing oil from intruding into the interior wetlands.

“We re-routed this project in support of our sand boom plan because we wanted to do whatever we could to keep more oil out of our marshes and off of our coast while we waited for approval from the Corps and the Coast Guard on our plan,” Governor Jindal said.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has confirmed shoreline impacts to date on about 100 miles of coastline on the Chandeleurs Islands, Whiskey Island, Trinity Island, Raccoon Island, South Pass, Fourchon Beach, Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island, Pass A Loutre, Brush Island, Marsh Island, Lake Raccourci, East Timbalier Island, Devil’s Bay shoreline, and Grand Terre. Cleanup operations are scheduled today for Grande Isle and Fourchon.

A cleanup crew rakes in and collects oily waste in Grand Isle, Louisiana. May 27, 2010 (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Speaking at the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Grande Isle, President Obama addressed the people of the Gulf coast, saying, “I know that you’ve weathered your fair share of trials and tragedy. I know there have been times where you’ve wondered if you were being asked to face them alone. I am here to tell you that you’re not alone. You will not be abandoned. You will not be left behind.”

“The cameras at some point may leave; the media may get tired of the story; but we will not. We are on your side and we will see this through. We’re going to keep at this every day until the leak has stopped, until this coastline is clean, and your communities are made whole again,” said the President. “That’s my promise to you. And that is a promise on behalf of a nation. It is one that we will keep.”

Finally, today President Obama signed a proclamation designating June as National Oceans Month.

“In 2010, this annual observance falls at a time of environmental crisis, as we continue our relentless efforts to stop and contain the oil spill threatening the Gulf Coast region,” he wrote.

“As we respond to this disaster, we must not forget that our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes demand our constant attention,” Obama wrote. “They have long been under considerable strain from pollution, overfishing, climate change, and other human activity.”

“This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As we commemorate this special milestone, we are reminded by the ongoing Gulf Coast crisis that we still have much to do in order to safeguard our vast oceanic resources for generations to come,” the President wrote. “Forty years from now, when our children look back on this moment, let them say that we did not waiver, but rather seized this opportunity to fulfill our duty to protect the waters that sustain us.”

Response by the numbers:

  • Some 20,000 people are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife.
  • Approximately 1,300 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 vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.
  • More than 1.88 million feet of containment boom and 1.25 million feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill, and approximately 280,000 feet of containment boom and one million feet of sorbent boom are available.
  • Approximately 11.5 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
  • About 850,000 gallons of total dispersant have been deployed – 700,000 on the surface and 150,000 subsea. More than 400,000 gallons are available.
  • 17 staging areas are in place and ready to protect sensitive shorelines, including: Dauphin Island, Orange Beach, and Theodore, Alabama; Panama City, Pensacola, Port St. Joe, and St. Marks, Florida; Amelia, Cocodrie, Grand Isle, Shell Beach, Slidell, St. Mary, and Venice, Louisiana; and Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Pass Christian, Mississippi.

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