Energy giant BP is coming under increasing political pressure due to its continued lack of success in plugging a massive oil leak from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill could reach US coastlines on Saturday.
REUTERS - Political pressure mounted on Friday for BP to show progress plugging a massive oil leak while residents of coastal Florida, Mississippi and Alabama learned the growing pool of oil from the leak would not strike their beaches before late on Saturday.
The drifting sea of oil could still spell disaster for coastlines all around the Gulf of Mexico while crippling attempts in Washington to overhaul U.S. energy policy.
President Barack Obama, whom the White House has described as "deeply frustrated" that the massive mile-deep oil leak has not been plugged, is set to meet with top advisers on Friday to discuss "next steps" as the giant oil slick creeps west across the Louisiana coast.
Capt. Steve Poulin, sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard in Mobile, Alabama, said in a briefing on Thursday afternoon the latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast did not see the oil slick making landfall in Alabama, at least until Saturday evening.
"You will see no imminent threat of oil impacting Mississippi, Alabama or Florida with these projections," Poulin added. He said the leading edge of the oil spill is a "very, very light sheen that is almost imperceptible from wind streaks on the water."
As of Thursday morning, 270,000 feet of boom had been deployed to protect Alabama's most vulnerable coastal areas, the Coast Guard said. That figure represented 68 percent of the state's priority boom placement targets.
The Elusive ‘Top Hat’
BP Plc, the British energy giant that has tried for weeks to staunch the unchecked flow of oil from a ruptured well, said on Thursday it would deploy a small containment dome, known as a "top hat," to trap the oil at the site of the leak in the coming days.
If such short-term efforts fail, it could take 90 days for the company to drill a relief well to cap the ruptured one.
Obama and his administration have stressed repeatedly that BP must pay for the spill's cleanup and other economic ramifications in the region, and the president is likely to repeat that -- while putting pressure on the company to achieve results -- in a public statement after his meeting.
"The president will meet with members of his cabinet and other senior administration officials to determine next steps in the ongoing effort to stop the BP oil spill, contain its spread and help affected communities," the White House said in a statement. Obama, a Democrat, is scheduled to speak to reporters about the issue at 11:50 a.m. Washington time.
A report early Friday on the New York Times' Web site may force the White House to field more questions about the federal government's role in overseeing the oil industry.
The Times said the Minerals Management Service had given permission to BP and other oil companies to drill in the Gulf without first obtaining required permits from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for protecting endangered species and marine mammals.
Oil has been gushing from the well for three weeks at the rate of 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) per day, threatening to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster as the biggest U.S. oil spill, and possibly the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The Coast Guard's Poulin said barrier islands off the Gulf coast were already under assault by the oil. "Tar balls" had washed up along Alabama's Dauphin Island and "tar patties" had been found along barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi.
Threats to ecology, shares, policy
BP, whose shares have tumbled and wiped out $30 billion of market value since the rig fire on April 20, said the oil spill had cost it $450 million so far. BP stock closed up 1.1 percent in London on Thursday after weeks of steep declines.
While the spill threatened coastlines, local businesses and animal habitats, it also created complications for Obama's energy policy.
Two lawmakers introduced legislation this week in the U.S. Senate to fight climate change and expand production of renewable fuels, but the spill has dampened the public appetite for an expansion of offshore drilling -- a component originally designed to encourage Republican support.
Outside of Washington communities that could be affected by the spill wondered when oil would show up on their shores.
Federal authorities said more than 520 vessels were responding to assist in containment and cleanup efforts in addition to dozens of aircraft and remotely operated vehicles.
A U.S. Senate committee approved $68 million to speed assistance to people affected by the massive oil spill, part of a request by the Obama administration to address the crisis.
Date created : 2010-05-13