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Obama visits oil spill zone, BP still unsure if leak is plugged

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-05-28

US President Barack Obama was in Louisiana Friday to view the oil spill response amid suspense over the latest bid to cap the massive leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

US President Barack Obama arrived in Louisiana Friday to view the oil spill response amid suspense over the latest bid to cap the massive leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward said a "top kill" attempt that started on Wednesday to plug the ruptured seabed well had had some success in keeping oil and gas down in the bore.

But the final outcome was still uncertain and it could be another 48 hours before it would be known whether it was successful.

"We don't know whether we will be able to overcome the well," he told NBC's "Today Show".

The British-based energy giant was maintaining its assessment that the "top kill" plugging operation had a 60-70 percent chance of success.

Rising public anger and frustration over the uncontrolled spill has made it a major challenge for Obama, who will visit the Louisiana coast where sticky oil has permeated wetlands, closed down a lucrative fishing trade and angered locals still on the mend from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Appearing on several US TV morning news shows, Hayward said BP engineers had injected a "junk shot" of heavier blocking materials -- such as pieces of rubber -- into the failed blowout preventer of the ruptured wellhead.

Later on Friday, they would also pump in more heavy drilling "mud" -- all part of the top kill procedure being attempted.

"We have some indications of partial bridging which is good news," he told CNN. "I think it's probably 48 hours before we have a conclusive view," he added.

BP shares were down around 4 percent in London amid uncertainty over the success of the effort to plug the well.

BP said on Friday the cost of the disaster so far was $930 million, up from a $760 million estimate on Monday. The cost is sure to multiply with clean-up of the spill, which has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster off the Alaska coast in 1989.

"This is clearly an environmental catastrophe, there are no two ways about it," Hayward told CNN, reversing previous comments by him in which he had predicted the ecological impact from the spill would be small.

Friday's trip is Obama's second visit to the Gulf in the more than five weeks since a rig explosion killed 11 workers and unleashed the oil from a well head one mile (1.6 km) down.

His tour comes a day after he vowed to "get this fixed" as criticism swelled over what many Americans see as a slow government response to one of the country's biggest environmental catastrophes.

Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, was slammed for his administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina, and Obama is anxious to avoid comparisons.

But however much he seeks to assert control, the federal government lacks the tools and technology to solve the deep-sea disaster and depends on BP to find the way to stem the flow. Relations between the two camps have been strained as Washington put the blame squarely on the London-based company.

If top kill fails, BP said it will immediately try other remedies, such as containing the oil so it can be transported by pipe to a drillship at the water's surface or placing a new blowout preventer atop the failed one.

It is also drilling two relief wells that will stop the flow but those will take several weeks to complete.

 

Date created : 2010-05-28

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