(BP oil spill story update for President Obama remarks in the Gulf region)
WASHINGTON D.C. (
is not ready to call the top kill a success, but there were consecutive indications on Thursday and Friday that the top kill was showing some signs of effectiveness in slowing the oil spill. At the same time, though, there were indications that the top kill was finding a worthy foe in the pressure of oil and gas coming out of the BP well.
Whether the BP top kill will ultimately slow the oil leaking from the Gulf of Mexico long enough to cement the well permanently remains an open question, and BP said on Friday that it could be two days before it has the answer.
Late on Thursday, the top kill had to be abandoned temporarily when too much of the heavy drilling mud that had seemed effective earlier in the day was overcome by the pressure coming out of the leaking well, and too much of the mud was forced back into the Gulf waters.
Like BP oil spill deja vu, the
New York Times
reported late on Friday that BP was again forced to suspend the top kill, not an encouraging sign on the surface or 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
President Obama spoke about the BP oil spill for the second consecutive day on Friday, after completing his "on the ground" in the Gulf region photo op, kneeling on a Louisiana beach to inspect a tar ball.
The president echoed similar themes from Thursday's White House press conference, adding a gloss that spoke specifically to the concerns and harm already done to the people of the Gulf Coast region, and the "assault on our shores, our people, our regional economies and communities. People's livelihoods are washing up on the beach," the president said, as the call of seabirds hovered above his words.
In speaking about BP's ongoing top kill effort, Obama phrased his words in the terms of the top kill that "the federal government authorized BP to use" a hint of the government's effort to show who really is wearing the pants in the oil spill effort as criticism lingers that the federal government had ceded too much control to BP.
The president noted that the cleanup effort is the largest ever in the nation's history, and that the federal government had advanced equipment in the Gulf on day one after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, hundreds of vessels stationed in the Gulf within days of the oil spill crisis worsening, 20,000 people working around the clock, and more than three million cubic feet of boom in place, with 100, 000 more cubic feet of boom on the way. Yet in referring to the oil spill cleanup effort as the largest-ever, President Obama's words also served as a reminder that it is the largest cleanup effort ever because it is the largest oil spill ever in the country's history.
The president also sought to take control of the fact that so much hope rides on BP's technical attempts, like the top kill -- and the fact that the federal government has not had a large enough presence in these efforts -- to stop the underwater gusher. Obama said that even if the top kill fails, the White House has the top scientists and engineers in the world working on contingency plans for the oil spill, led by Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu. President Obama has liked saying the words "Nobel Prize winner" more and more during the BP oil crisis, as he once liked to invoke the phrase "I have spoken to Warren Buffett" during the worst of the financial crisis.
As part of his regular course in speaking about the BP oil spill, the president said that BP, and any other companies found to be responsible for the spill -- will be held to all legal and financial claims for the enormous damage they have created. For the second consecutive day, the president assumed the ultimate blame for the oil spill, saying, "I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I am the president the buck stops with me."
A Gallup poll from Thursday found that 53% of American though Obama's performance on the BP oil spill was "poor" or "very poor." The president is still comfortably ahead of BP -- which was rated "poor" or "very poor" by 73% of surveyed -- but the margin has diminished.
Throughout the BP oil spill crisis and all of the previous failed attempts by BP to stop the gushing oil, BP officials have floated confidence across the airwaves while buying time for more unproven methods to stop the gusher 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Still, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles showed an unusually impartial side this week -- saying that BP could not be either pessimistic or optimistic about the top kill. "We have not stopped the flow," Suttles said. BP CEO Tony Hayward continues to put the chances of success at 60% to 70%.
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral, Thad Allen, told the
Los Angeles Times
on Thursday morning that the top kill had worked, and BP would next be moving to cement the leaking underwater well permanently shut, and that comment quickly spread across the major news outlets and the Internet, even as the Coast Guard had to retreat from that position by the end of Thursday.
Previously, the Coast Guard official had been more guarded in his optimism, saying late on Wednesday that the lack of bad news in the top kill effort was encouraging news, and that the top kill plan was proceeding according to plan.
By Friday morning, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Allen was saying on national television that the biggest challenge for the top kill was to sustain the pressure from the heavy drilling mud flooding into the well. The Coast Guard Rear Admiral did a good job of sustaining optimism in the top kill on Thursday morning in the lead-up to President Obama's press conference, before having to backtrack on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
BP CEO Hayward was also on national TV on Friday, saying the top kill was "going pretty well according to plan."
The Coast Guard's Allen said on Friday morning that the next 12 hours to 18 hours will be critical in judging the BP top kill. Yet, on Thursday, BP CEO Hayward had said that a definitive judgment of the top kill would be available by the end of the day Thursday.
Based on the mid-range of estimates released by the Flow Rate Technical Group, the BP well may have leaked about 527,000 barrels into the Gulf of Mexico, which would be almost twice the 262,000 barrels spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989, and also make it the worst oil spill in U.S. history, which the White House had already conceded it was earlier in the week.
It was a mixed day on Thursday for BP oil spill news. While the top kill showed some promise, President Obama announced on Thursday a suspension of all applications for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico through the remainder of the year.
The Coast Guard Rear Admiral also delivered some distressing news amid his hopeful comments on the top kill, saying the new estimate for how much oil has been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico is between 12,000 to 25,000 barrels per day, well above the previous, heavily criticized estimate of only 5,000 barrels.
President Obama's decision formalizes into a six-month ban what has been an informal moratorium on any new drilling announced by the Obama administration earlier in the BP oil spill crisis.
President Obama used his early afternoon press conference on Thursday to hit home key administration points: the federal government has made the BP oil spill a priority from day one, recognized "the potential enormity" of the oil spill from day one, and will make sure that BP pays for every cent of the oil spill containment and cleanup and, in the end, that the government does not have better technology than BP which would allow it to push BP aside in the oil spill cleanup effort.
President Obama did concede on some mistakes made, saying the government did not have an advanced response team ready for a worst-case scenario oil spill, but also said that there has been a historic complacency about worst-case scenarios.
The President was asked whether he regretted his decision to authorize an expansion of offshore drilling for the first time in decades. Obama used the attack from the press as a chance to express his overarching energy policy -- that deep sea oil drilling with higher risk and higher costs to oil companies shows that the oil industry is in its "last days" and the U.S. needs to transition to a clean energy model, but that transition will require domestic oil production, and less reliance on foreign oil.
Obama also had a catch phrase for an infamous drilling catch phrase, telling the press, "I never said "Drill, Baby, Drill!'"
"The framework is right. Where I was wrong was belief that oil companies have their act together when it comes to worst-case scenarios," President Obama said. The President continued that his mistake was not based on "my blind acceptance" of oil company statements, but the fact that there has been deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for a long time without a record of accidents like this one.
Still, Obama conceded all it takes is one accident for all the assumptions to be proved incorrect. Before lifting the ban on drilling, the government need to be absolutely convinced that it has done a "thorough scrub of safety procedures" and has the confidence that even if an oil spill like the BP oil spill is a one in a million shot, the government has the technology and know-how to stop the oil leak within a matter of days.
The head of the Minerals Management Service, Elizabeth Birnbaum, handed in her resignation on Thursday, the second MMS official to resign since the BP oil spill began. Birnbaum was the biggest victim of the major flaws exposed in the MMS structure. Yet Birnbaum noted in her resignation letter that she hoped the MMS would reform the flaws that she "inherited."
President Obama said when questioned about the MMS that reforms had not been coming fast enough, but after Birnbaum's resignation, Obama said that the buck still stopped with him. "I take responsibility for MMS shortcomings, in case you are wondering in your reporting who is responsible. I take responsibility. My job is to make sure this is shut down."
-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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