May 2, 2010 12:19 PM by Letitia Walker
VENICE, La. (AP) - 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 was headed for 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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
3 hours ago