Oil Spill Grows, With Little Success Stopping Flow
Gerald Herbert / AP
(VENICE, La.) — BP's chairman defended his company's safety record and said Sunday that "a failed piece of equipment" was to blame for a massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, where President Barack Obama was headed for a firsthand update on the slick creeping toward American shores.
BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay told ABC's "This Week" that he can't say when the well a mile beneath the sea might be plugged. But he said he believes a dome that could be placed over the well is expected to be deployed in six to eight days.
The dome has been made and workers are finishing the plan to get it deployed, McKay said. He said BP officials are still working to activate a "blowout preventer" mechanism meant to seal off the geyser of oil. (See pictures of the oil spill.)
"And as you can imagine, this is like doing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet, with — in the dark, with robot-controlled submarines," McKay said.
BP spokesman Bill Salvin said McKay was talking about the blowout preventer as the failed equipment that caused the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people. The blowout preventer typically activates after a blast or other event to cut off any oil that may spill.
The cause of the blast remains undetermined, and Salvin said "we're not ruling anything out."
Crews have had little success stemming the flow from the ruptured well on the sea floor off Louisiana or removing oil from the surface by skimming it, burning it or dispersing it with chemicals. The churning slick of dense, rust-colored oil is now roughly the size of Puerto Rico.
Adding to the gloomy outlook were warnings from experts that an uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream current carries it toward the Atlantic. (See the world's most influential people in the 2010 TIME 100.)
Long tendrils of oil sheen made their way into South Pass, a major channel through the salt marshes of Louisiana's southeastern bootheel that is a breeding ground for crab, oysters, shrimp, redfish and other seafood.
Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney lamented that there was no boom in the water to corral the oil, and said BP was "pretty much over their head in the deep water."
"If they weren't, they would have cut the oil off by now," he said.
"It's like a slow version of Katrina," he added. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age."
About a half-dozen fishing vessels sailed Sunday morning through the marshes of coastal St. Bernard Parish in eastern Louisiana, headed for the Biloxi Wildlife Management area. The oyster and shrimp boats, laden with boom, hoped to seal off inlets, bayous and bays. (See pictures of oil fires.)
There is growing criticism that the government and oil company BP PLC should have done more to stave off the disaster, which cast a pall over the region's economy and fragile environment. Moving to blunt criticism that the Obama administration has been slow in reacting to the largest U.S. crude oil spill in decades, the White House dispatched two Cabinet members to make the rounds on the Sunday television talk shows.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on "Fox News Sunday" that the government has taken an "all hands on deck" approach to the spill since the BP oil well ruptured.
Napolitano said that as BP officials realized more oil was spewing than first thought, the government has coordinated federal, state and local resources with the oil company's response.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told NBC's "Meet the Press" that it could take three months before workers attain what he calls the "ultimate solution" to stopping the leak — drilling a relief well more than 3 miles below the ocean floor.
However, as the spill surged toward disastrous proportions, critical questions lingered: Who created the conditions that caused the gusher? Did BP and the government react robustly enough in its early days? And, most important, how can it be stopped before the damage gets worse?