Obama Visits Gulf, BP Chairman Blames Spill On Faulty Equipment

BP's chairman defended his company's safety record and said Sunday that "a failed piece of equipment" was to blame for a massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, where President Barack Obama is doing a firsthand update on the slick creeping toward American shores.

BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay told ABC's "This Week" that he can't say when the well a mile beneath the sea might be plugged. But he said he believes a dome that could be placed over the well is expected to be deployed in six to eight days.

The dome has been made and workers are finishing the plan to get it deployed, McKay said. He said BP officials are still working to activate a "blowout preventer" mechanism meant to seal off the geyser of oil.

"And as you can imagine, this is like doing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet, with - in the dark, with robot-controlled submarines," McKay said.

BP spokesman Bill Salvin said McKay was talking about the blowout preventer as the failed equipment that caused the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people.

The blowout preventer typically activates after a blast or other event to cut off any oil that may spill.

The cause of the blast remains undetermined, and Salvin said "we're not ruling anything out."

Crews have had little success stemming the flow from the ruptured well on the sea floor off Louisiana or removing oil from the surface by skimming it, burning it or dispersing it with chemicals. The churning slick of dense, rust-colored oil is now roughly the size of Puerto Rico.

Adding to the gloomy outlook were warnings from experts that an uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream current carries it toward the Atlantic.

Long tendrils of oil sheen made their way into South Pass, a major channel through the salt marshes of Louisiana's southeastern bootheel that is a breeding ground for crab, oysters, shrimp, redfish and other seafood.

Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney lamented that there was no boom in the water to corral the oil, and said BP was "pretty much over their head in the deep water."

"If they weren't, they would have cut the oil off by now," he said.

"It's like a slow version of Katrina," he added. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age."

About a half-dozen fishing vessels sailed Sunday morning through the marshes of coastal St. Bernard Parish in eastern Louisiana, headed for the Biloxi Wildlife Management area. The oyster and shrimp boats, laden with boom, hoped to seal off inlets, bayous and bays.

There is growing criticism that the government and oil company BP PLC should have done more to stave off the disaster, which cast a pall over the region's economy and fragile environment. Moving to blunt criticism that the Obama administration has been slow in reacting to the largest U.S. crude oil spill in decades, the White House dispatched two Cabinet members to make the rounds on the Sunday television talk shows.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on "Fox News Sunday" that the government has taken an "all hands on deck" approach to the spill since the BP oil well ruptured.

Napolitano said that as BP officials realized more oil was spewing than first thought, the government has coordinated federal, state and local resources with the oil company's response.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told NBC's "Meet the Press" that it could take three months before workers attain what he calls the "ultimate solution" to stopping the leak - drilling a relief well more than 3 miles below the ocean floor.

However, as the spill surged toward disastrous proportions, critical questions lingered: Who created the conditions that caused the gusher? Did BP and the government react robustly enough in its early days? And, most important, how can it be stopped before the damage gets worse?

The Coast Guard and BP have said it's nearly impossible to know exactly how much oil has gushed since the blast, though it has been roughly estimated the well was spewing at least 200,000 gallons a day.

Even at that rate, the spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history in a matter of weeks. But a growing number of experts warned that the situation may already be much worse.

The oil slick over the water's surface appeared to triple in size over the past two days, which could indicate an increase in the rate oil is pouring from the well, according to one analysis of images collected from satellites and reviewed by the University of Miami. While it's hard to judge the volume of oil by satellite because of depth, images do indicate growth, experts said.

"The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated," said Hans Graber, executive director of the university's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing.

In an exploration plan and environmental impact analysis filed with the federal government in February 2009, BP said it had the capability to handle a "worst-case scenario" at the site, which the document described as a leak of 162,000 barrels per day from an uncontrolled blowout - 6.8 million gallons each day.

Oil industry experts and officials are reluctant to describe what, exactly, a worst-case scenario would look like. But if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and carries it to the beaches of Florida - and potentially loops around the state's southern tip and up the eastern seaboard - several experts said it stands to be an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.

"It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time," Graber said. "I don't think we can prevent that. It's more of a question of when rather than if."

The concerns are both environmental and economic. The fishing industry is worried marine life will die - and that no one will want to buy products from contaminated water anyway. Tourism officials are worried vacationers won't want to visit oil-tainted beaches. And environmentalists are worried about how the oil will affect the countless birds, coral and mammals in and near the Gulf.

"We know they are out there," said Meghan Calhoun, a spokeswoman from the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. "Unfortunately, the weather has been too bad for the Coast Guard and NOAA to get out there and look for animals for us."

Fishermen and boaters want to help but have been hampered by high winds and rough waves that render oil-catching booms largely ineffective. Some coastal Louisiana residents complained that BP was hampering mitigation efforts.

"No, I'm not happy with the protection, but I'm sure the oil company is saving money," said 57-year-old Raymond Schmitt, in Venice preparing his boat to take a French television crew on a tour.

And the oil on the surface is just part of the problem. Louisiana State University professor Ed Overton, who heads a federal chemical hazard assessment team for oil spills, worries about a total collapse of the pipe inserted into the well. If that happens, there would be no warning and the resulting gusher could be even more devastating.

"When these things go, they go KABOOM," he said. "If this thing does collapse, we've got a big, big blow."

BP has not said how much oil is beneath the seabed Deepwater Horizon was tapping. A company official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the volume of reserves, confirmed reports that it was tens of millions of barrels.

Obama has halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster.

As if to cut off mounting criticism, on Saturday White House spokesman Robert Gibbs posted a blog entitled "The Response to the Oil Spill," laying out the administration's day-by-day response since the explosion, using words like "immediately" and "quickly," and emphasizing that Obama "early on" directed responding agencies to devote every resource to the incident and determining its cause.

In Pass Christian, Miss., 61-year-old Jimmy Rowell, a third-generation shrimp and oyster fisherman, worked on his boat at the harbor and stared out at the choppy waters.

"It's over for us. If this oil comes ashore, it's just over for us," Rowell said angrily, rubbing his forehead. "Nobody wants no oily shrimp."

Previous Story:

Officials now worry not only about the impact on Gulf Coast states, but what might happen if the growing oil slick gets caught up in the Gulf Stream and heads into the Atlantic and up the East Coast.

Obama's visit comes amid growing criticism that the government and oil company BP PLC should have done more to stave off the disaster.

The Coast Guard concedes that it's nearly impossible to know how much oil has gushed since the April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers.

The oil slick threatens beaches, fragile marshes, birds and marine mammals, along with fishing grounds that are among the world's most productive.

The spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident in a matter of weeks.

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  • by Stanley Location: Greenville on May 3, 2010 at 06:12 PM
    NS, I totally agree with you, there are a lot of fruitcakes on this site. They look for anything to blame President Obama for. How can someone disagree with "everything" this president does? Looks to me like these people are prejudice, and ignorant.
  • by NS Location: Greenville on May 3, 2010 at 04:48 PM
    Nobody blamed Bush for Katrina-the hurricaine. They blamed him for having a horse breeder heading FEMA and not getting the govm't involved sooner. No one else was responsible there. Here, this is BP's fault-no matter how(if we ever know)-they made the money-they're responsible for the mess. Obama responded on day 1. The coast guard was there immediately (he is commander-in-chief). Even when BP was still saying, "no big deal"-Feds were there. I honestly don't think anyone can't see the difference, you are just using anything you can. It only makes you look desperate for something to criticize Obama for. Anonymous-What is good about this tragedy that we can look at? To do this to the beautiful world we were given is disgraceful!
  • by Anonymous on May 3, 2010 at 05:01 AM
    Has anyone ever heard of the term accident? That is all this was. I'm sure these oil platform have some pretty strict guidelines to follow and constant inspections. BP overall is repsonsible for the clean-up with the aid of the Federal Government and should pay for it, not the tax payers. No, Obama is not responsible for it, however if this happened during the Bush years the liberals would be blaming him. Yes he did take too long to react to the situation though. These oil rigs have been operating for years and this is the first time in quite awhile that any major spill has happened, we cannot base the decision to drill for more oil off of one situation, stop looking at the bad and look at the good.
  • by Over Location: NC on May 2, 2010 at 09:30 PM
    Well, reading these posts has led me to one overall big conclusion. You repukes now are blaming this on Obama. Some say he blew it up. I now know for sure that a large percentage of posters are actually certifiably nuts and only represent a small faction of wackos. The one certainty is that now, all cards are on the table. We will never ever have a stable anything in this country any more. Instead of worrying about what really matters, the only thing you bumpkins can do is automatically jump and start blaming the President. BP is to blame and whoever was/is in charge of inspecting equipment on oil rigs. Maybe the part just went bad like so many things you purchase go bad with no reason. But aside from all that, now its hunting season. No matter who will be president of this country in the future, it's gonna be like this from here on out. For him/against him and screaming all sorts of psychbabble that will drive this country into it's 2nd civil war. We are done.
  • by MrT Location: LaNC on May 2, 2010 at 07:19 PM
    Another excuse for this loser to take a trip at taxpayers expense.As if that moron would know what he was looking at when he gets there.I think Barack and Beverly are in competition to see who can travel the most while in office.
  • by isit2012yet? on May 2, 2010 at 07:17 PM
    I'm surprised he hasn't blamed it on Bush! That's been his answer for everything else so far.
  • by Anonymous on May 2, 2010 at 07:15 PM
    You can't help but notice how the msm neglects to point out how slowly Obama was to repond to this crisis. Of course the left would be foaming at the mouth if it was GW on this one.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on May 2, 2010 at 05:45 PM
    I missed it. Did Faux say Obama caused the spill? They must have from some of the moronic comments out here.
  • by G.W Location: Crawford on May 2, 2010 at 05:43 PM
    Wait! I'll do a fly over and then my mother can say how well people are doing because they didn't have anything anyway. That'll fix it. Spill baby Spill!
  • by Anonymous on May 2, 2010 at 05:19 PM
    It's amazing that everyone wants to blame a politician whether they're on the right or on the left. Yet BP is operating the platform that caused the leak. Truly amazing the members of the intellectually bankrupt that posts on this site.
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