- environment - Oil spill
Obama defends government response to oil spill
US President Barack Obama has defended his administration's handling of a five-week-old oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and extended a moratorium on deepwater drilling for six months, amid reports of progress in the latest efforts to plug the leak.
AFP - US President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled tough moves to suspend new oil drilling and exploration following the Gulf of Mexico disaster, while denying the government was too slow to tackle the crisis.
After reviewing an Interior Department report into the massive oil spill, Obama outlined four steps to prevent such an accident from happening again including suspending 33 deepwater exploratory wells being drilled in the Gulf.
"If nothing else, this disaster should serve as a wakeup call," the US president told a press conference, as official data showed the five-week-old spill was now the worst in US history.
The government was extending an existing moratorium on deepwater drilling as well as suspending the issuing of new permits for six months, Obama said, as expert data said the oil was gushing at up to four times previous estimates.
Planned exploration in two locations off the coast of Alaska was suspended, and "we will cancel the pending lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia,"
And Obama added "we will suspend action on 33 deepwater exploratory wells currently being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico."
He was speaking as BP's risky "top kill" of the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well, which exploded on April 20 and then sank, appeared to stop the oil flow Thursday.
Coast Guard chief Thad Allen, who is coordinating the US government's battle against spill, said the "top kill" maneuver begun on Wednesday by BP to plug the leak had stopped the gush of oil from the mile-deep well.
But he cautioned it was still too early to declare victory as the British energy giant pumps heavy drilling liquids, dubbed mud, into the fractured wellhead to beat back the flow of oil, before sealing it with concrete.
Unveiling new data, government scientists said the oil had been gushing from the burst pipe at a rate of between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day -- much higher than the initial estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.
Under such a scenario, that would mean that between 18.6 million gallons to 29.5 million gallons of oil have seeped into the Gulf.
Obama said the disaster showed the need to develop renewable energy sources, but dismissed charges the government had acted too slowly in the crisis.
"The United States government has always been in charge of making sure that the response is appropriate," Obama said 37 days after the blowout at the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon well.
"This notion that somehow the federal government is sitting on the sidelines and for the last three or four or five weeks we've just been letting BP make a whole bunch of decisions is simply not true," he said.
"This entire White House and this entire federal government has been singularly focused on how do we stop the leak and how do we prevent and mitigate the damage to our coastlines," he said.
But the US president said that "more than anything else this economic and environmental tragedy, and it's a tragedy, underscores the urgent need for this nation to develop clean renewable sources of energy."
He added it was time to move forward on legislation to promote renewable energy sources.
"It's time to accelerate the competition with countries like China who have already realized the future lies in renewable energy and it's time to seize that future ourselves."