As people in the Gulf Coast were "watching their livelihoods wash up on the beach," President Obama -- speaking in Louisiana last Friday about efforts to tame and contain the worst oil spill in U.S. history -- promised that "justice will be done for those whose lives have been upended by this disaster."
The president promised a "whatever it takes" response to the spill and the devastation it was wreaking in the Gulf. He said manpower would be tripled in areas where oil has hit the Gulf shoreline or wherever its arrival was expected within 24 hours.
"We want to stop the leak; we want to contain and clean up the oil, and we want to help the people of this region return to their lives and their livelihoods as soon as possible..." Obama said.
The spill is the result of a well blowout that occurred more than a month ago and resulted in the sinking of the BP plc-contracted Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig owned by Transocean Ltd., and the death of 11 crew members. (see NGI, May 24).
"This is a man made catastrophe that's still evolving, and we face a long-term recovery and restoration effort," Obama said. "America has never experienced an event like this before. Not every judgment we make is going to be right the first time out. Sometimes there are going to be disagreements among experts."
When Obama spoke early Friday afternoon it had been about 49 hours since BP began its "top kill" procedure to try to overcome the well's flow of oil and natural gas by injecting heavy drilling mud. Success was anything but assured -- BP had set the odds at 60-70%; others expressed less optimism -- and the outcome of the effort likely wouldn't be known until last Sunday, the company said.
The top kill's success would be followed by the cementing of the well. Its failure would lead to attempts to install a "lower marine riser package" (LMRP) cap containment system, BP said last Friday.
"Deployment would first involve removing the damaged riser from the top of the failed BOP [blowout preventer] to leave a cleanly cut pipe at the top of the BOP's LMRP. The cap, a containment device with a sealing grommet, will be connected to a riser from the Discoverer Enterprise drillship, 5,000 feet above on the surface, and placed over the LMRP with the intention of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well.
"The LMRP cap is already deployed alongside the BOP in readiness for potential deployment," BP added. "If it is decided to deploy this option, this would be expected to take some three to four days. In addition to these steps, planning is being advanced for deploying, if necessary, a second BOP on top of the original failed BOP."
And the drilling of two relief wells is still under way, with the first not expected to reach its target before Aug. 2.
But last Friday the hope was that the plume of drilling mud emanating from the well riser was a good sign, an indication that the oil and gas flow was being overcome by the mud and that the worst-ever U.S. spill would not grow still larger.
"Initial thought was we'd know 24-48 hours from start of job. A day later -- still 24-48 hours away from knowing," analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities Inc. said in a note. "All we can do is watch and wait. If top kill hasn't fixed this by next Monday [Memorial Day], there are going to be lots of frustrated people (politicians, investors, U.S. citizens, etc.) and we'd expect the tension/anger level about the spill to dial up yet another notch."
Earlier in the week some opinion polls indicated that more of the public's anger over the spill had turned toward Obama. More than a few commentators had suggested that the spill was Obama's "Hurricane Katrina." Seemingly mindful of this, Obama sought to assure Gulf Coast residents and particularly Louisianans.
"I'm here to tell you you are not alone," he said. "You will not be left behind; you will not be abandoned."
The president also sought to clarify the role of his administration and that of BP in the spill response.
"They're legally responsible for stopping the leak, and they're financially responsible for the enormous damage that they've created," Obama said of the London-based international oil company. And while administration officials have conceded that BP and its peers are the ones with the best technology and expertise to plug the hole, Obama kept himself on the hook for the outcome.
"I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis," he said. "I'm the president and the buck stops with me."
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