May 25, 2010 8:48 AM by Sharlee Jacobs
WASHINGTON (AP) - Oil spill frustration is rampant.
The White House is being pounded for not acting more
aggressively in the month-old oil spill disaster in the Gulf of
Mexico. The administration is hitting back, mostly at BP. Louisiana
is threatening to take matters into its own hands. The truth is,
the government has little direct experience at either the national
or state level at stopping deepwater oil leaks - and few realistic
With the oil flowing and spreading at a furious rate, President
Barack Obama has accused BP of a "breakdown of responsibility."
He named a special independent commission to review what happened.
But the administration seems to want to have it both ways -
insisting it's in charge while also insisting that BP do the heavy
lifting. The White House is arguing that government officials
aren't just watching from the sidelines, but also acknowledging
there's just so much the government can do directly.
"They are 5,000 feet down. BP or the private sector alone have
the means to deal with that problem down there. It's not government
equipment that is going to be used to do that," Coast Guard
Commandant Thad Allen told a White House briefing on Monday.
"They are the responsible party. But we have the authority to
direct them," he added.
There are political risks both ways. If the federal government
took control somehow, it would own the problem and any failure
would belong to Obama.
But the flip side is that Obama could suffer politically if his
administration is seen as falling short of staying on top of the
problem or not working hard to find a solution.
In the past, the government has turned to oil industry experts
to deal with oil disasters.
It famously recruited legendary oil well fighters Paul N.
"Red" Adair and Edward "Coots" Matthews to help in the first
Iraq war. Retreating Iraqi troops deliberately spilled 462 million
gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf and set more than 700 oilfield
After the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, Congress
dictated in the 1990 Oil Pollution Act that oil companies be
responsible for dealing with major accidents - including paying for
all cleanup - with oversight by federal agencies.
That has pretty much been the model ever since. And the
administration insists that's exactly what it is doing - although
clearly not everyone agrees.
Anger grows as the slick spreads and washes ashore into
environmentally sensitive marshes and waterways. Nerves are frayed
and finger-pointing in full swing.
The administration says it is losing patience with BP PLC's
"If we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be
doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately," Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters outside BP's headquarters in
Houston on Sunday.
Just what did Salazar mean by "push them out of the way"?
Officials have struggled since in explaining.
"That's more of a metaphor," the Coast Guard's Allen said
Monday. "'Push BP out of the way' would raise the question -
replace them with what?"
Allen, responsible for oversight of the spill response, said
he's frustrated too, along with other Americans.
Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano led a
Senate delegation to the region Monday.
"We are going to stay on this and stay on BP until this gets
done and it gets done the right way," Napolitano said after flying
over the affected area.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has taken swipes at
BP and other oil companies involved in the disaster as well as the
federal government. Jindal said he was going to call out members of
the Louisiana National Guard to join state wildlife and fisheries
agents to supplement a federal response he called inadequate.
In particular, Jindal assailed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
for failing to sign off on a plan to build a chain of protective
sand barriers - or berms - off the coast to help block the oil.
"We are not waiting for them. We are going to build it"
ourselves, Jindal said. U.S. officials say the Corps is nearing a
The spill began April 20 after the Deepwater Horizon rig owned
by driller Transocean and leased by BP exploded, killing 11
workers. Millions of gallons of oil have spewed from the blown
Doug Suttles, chief operating officer at BP PLC, made the round
of network news shows Monday with the same message: "We are doing
everything we can, everything I know." He said the energy giant,
formerly known as British Petroleum, understands and shares
But history isn't encouraging when it comes to underwater
The last major spill in the Gulf was in June 1979, when an
offshore drilling rig in Mexican waters - the Ixtoc I - blew up,
releasing 140 million gallons of oil. The well was owned by
Mexico's state oil company, known as Pemex. It took Pemex and a
series of U.S. contractors nearly nine months to cap the well, and
a great deal of the oil contaminated Mexican and U.S. waters.
If patience is necessary, it isn't a particularly forthcoming
quality in these tense times.
Even as strong an Obama ally as Democratic consultant James
Carville has been taking shots at the administration.
A Louisiana native, Carville told CNN the administration was
"risking everything by this 'go along with BP' strategy. ... If
you let BP handle it ... it's not going to go away. It is a
disaster of the first magnitude and they've got to go to Plan B."
But so far, there was no Plan B on the table short of waiting
until August, when two relief wells are expected to reach the oil
deep under the ocean floor.