Monday, May 24, 2010

BP says doing all it can, everyone's frustrated

By GREG BLUESTEIN and MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press Writers Greg Bluestein And Matthew Brown, Associated Press Writers

BARATARIA BAY, La. – The BP executive in charge of fighting the Gulf of Mexico oil spill acknowledged Monday that everyone is frustrated at his company's failure to plug the gushing well more than a month into the disaster that is now spreading damage through Louisiana's wetlands.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer at BP PLC, went on all three U.S. network morning talks shows with the same message: BP knows frustration is growing that it hasn't been able to halt the spill of millions of gallons of oil from the well that blew out after a drilling rig exploded April 20 off the Louisiana coast.

"We are doing everything we can, everything I know," Suttles said on NBC's "Today" show.

Company spokesman John Curry said it will be at least Wednesday before BP will try using heavy mud and cement to plug the leak, a maneuver called a top kill that represents the best hope of stopping the oil after several failed attempts. BP initially said it would try Tuesday, but Curry said more time is needed to get equipment in place and test it.

"Our goal, of course, is to succeed," Curry said. "We want this as much as anyone and our best chance of success is looking like Wednesday morning."

The stakes are high, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar questioned Sunday whether the company knows what it's doing as it tries to stop the deep-water leak, though federal officials have acknowledged that BP has expertise that they lack.

"I have no question that BP is throwing everything at the problem to try to resolve it because this is an existential crisis for one of the world's largest companies. So they are throwing everything that they can at the problem," Salazar said. "Do I have confidence that they know exactly what they are doing? No, not completely."

Asked about Salazar's criticism, Suttles said BP is working with experts from other oil companies and the government to find a solution.

"What I do know is, everyone is frustrated. I think the people of the region are frustrated. I know we are, I know the government is," Suttles said on NBC. "The fact that it's taken this long is painful to everybody."

Salazar and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were to lead a Senate delegation to the region Monday to see affected areas from the air.

BP said Monday its costs for responding to the spill had grown to about $760 million, including containment efforts, drilling a relief well to stop the leak permanently, grants to Gulf states for their response costs and paying damage claims. BP said it's too early to calculate other potential costs and liabilities.

At least 6 million gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf, though some scientists have said they believe the spill already surpasses the 11 million-gallon 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska as the worst in U.S. history.

A mile-long tube operating for about a week has siphoned off more than half a million gallons, but it began sucking up oil at a slower rate over the weekend, and even at its best it wasn't capturing all of the oil leaking.

The spill's impact now stretches across 150 miles, from Dauphin Island, Ala. to Grand Isle, La.

With oil pushing at least 12 miles into marshes in his state and two major pelican rookeries now coated in crude, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said crews have begun work on a chain of berms made with sandbags, reinforced with containment booms, that would skirt the state's coastline.

"As we talk, a total of more than 65 miles of our shoreline now has been oiled," Jindal said.

On Barataria Bay, some brown pelicans coated in oil could do little more than hobble. Their usually brown and white feathers were jet black, and eggs were glazed with rust-colored gunk.

The birds got spooked when wildlife officials tried to rescue one of them, and officials were not sure they would try again.

Pelicans are especially vulnerable to oil because they dive into the water to feed. They could eat tainted fish and feed it to their young, or they could die of hypothermia or drown if their feathers become soaked in oil. The birds were removed from the federal endangered species list just six months ago.

Oil has also reached a 1,150-acre oyster ground leased by Belle Chasse, La., fisherman Dave Cvitanovich. He said cleanup crews were stringing lines of absorbent boom along the surrounding marshes, but that still left large clumps of rust-colored oil floating over his oyster beds. Mature oysters might eventually filter out the crude and become fit for sale, but this year's crop of young oysters will perish.

"Those will die in the oil," Cvitanovich said. "It's inevitable."


Bluestein reported from Covington, La. Associated Press writers Mary Foster in Barataria Bay, Matthew Daly in Washington, Kevin McGill in New Orleans and Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert in Louisiana contributed to this report.



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