In his debut address from the Oval Office, US President Barack Obama unveiled Tuesday a battle plan to combat an oil pollution "epidemic" in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that the BP oil disaster demonstrated the need for a new generation energy policy.
AFP - US President Barack Obama warned Americans Tuesday they faced a long battle against an "epidemic" of oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and called for a new "national mission" to wean the United States off fossil fuels.
In his debut prime-time address from the Oval Office, Obama also vowed to do whatever was necessary to help the people of the southern US coast recover from the disaster and unveiled a "battle plan" to clean up a massive oil slick.
The president, flanked by a US flag and a flag bearing the presidential seal, gave the speech after a three-state tour of the disaster zone, and as his administration faced renewed criticism of its response to the catastrophe.
BP'S PR EFFORTS IN OIL SPILL CRISIS
"The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years," Obama said, taking a hard line on BP which leased the Gulf of Mexico rig that blew up in April.
"Make no mistake: we will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long it takes," Obama vowed in the primetime speech carried on the main US television networks.
"We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused," he said, adding he would force the London-based firm to accept the creation of an escrow account to compensate victims of the spill, to be administrated by a third party, independent of the company.
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"Today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude," Obama said.
"We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.
"Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny."
Obama spoke in the symbolic surroundings of the Oval Office, a venue reserved for the most somber moments in national life after his administration sharply boosted estimates of how much oil is pouring into the Gulf.
The new assessment from US experts said between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day was now believed to be spewing out of the ruptured well every day, with the coastline from Louisiana to Florida already under threat from the huge slick.
"This estimate... is the most comprehensive estimate so far of how much oil is flowing one mile below the ocean’s surface," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.
If the upper estimate is true it would mean almost the same amount of crude -- more than ten million gallons -- that spilled from the Exxon Valdez tanker off the coast of Alaska in 1989 is gushing into the Gulf every four days.
The administration team also revealed that BP was deploying Tuesday a second containment option.
A boat called Q4000 would be used to burn off captured oil and gas, which could bump up the amount of crude being contained to 20,000 to 28,000 barrels a day.
BP deployed its first successful containment cap -- dubbed a lower marine riser pipe -- on June 3, after several futile bids to cap the leak.
Earlier in a stunning admission borne out by BP's troubled efforts to contain the spill, ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson acknowledged to US lawmakers that oil companies are hamstrung once a major spill happens.
"When these things happen, we are not well equipped to handle them," he admitted as lawmakers grilled top executives from BP and four of its biggest global rivals.
Sitting alongside BP America boss Lamar McKay at a packed Congress hearing, officials from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Shell took pains to distance themselves from the unfolding Gulf catastrophe.
They maintained that had BP followed industry-wide safety practices, the disaster would have been avoided.
"I believe the independent investigation will show that this tragedy was preventable," Chevron chief executive officer John Watson said.
Highlighting the complexities of capturing the spill, a fire on a surface containment ship Tuesday shut down BP's operation to suck up the gushing oil for about five hours as workers doused the blaze sparked by lightening.
US lawmakers have demanded BP set up a 20-billion-dollar escrow fund to pay for the clean-up and economic recovery of the region.
But BP America's boss McKay declined to confirm whether the company, which has vowed to pay all legitimate claims, would set up the fund.
Date created : 2010-06-16