US President Barack Obama was scheduled to return to the Gulf of Mexico coast yesterday, insisting he’s in charge of efforts to shut down what is now estimated as the worst oil spill in US history, but admitting the government doesn’t have the technology or expertise and must rely on BP.
BP yesterday said the cost of the disaster now was US$930 million, up from a US$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.
Yesterday’s trip was to be 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 1.6km down.
His tour comes just 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.
Even his 11-year-old daughter Malia is weighing in, asking, “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?” Obama told reporters.
Obama seized ownership on Thursday of what he called a “tremendous catastrophe,” after weeks of allowing Cabinet members take the public lead.
“I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down,” Obama said at a White House news conference dominated by the spill.
Even at the lowest estimate — 68 million liters — the Gulf spill has far surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster, in which a tanker ran aground in Alaska, spilling nearly 42 million liters.
Asked about inevitable comparisons between his administration’s handling of the disaster with his predecessor’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which flooded New Orleans and other areas, Obama said: “I’ll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons. ... What I’m thinking about is, how do you solve the problem?”
Conceding that “people are going to be frustrated” until the well is capped, Obama said he would use the full force of the federal government to extract damages from BP.
“We will demand they pay every dime they owe for the damage they’ve done and the painful losses they’ve caused,” Obama said.
The quandary for Obama, however, is that the federal government lacks the tools and technology to solve the deep-sea disaster and depends on BP to find the way to stanch the flow.
While making clear he was leading the response, Obama acknowledged some things could have been better handled.
He said his administration didn’t act with “sufficient urgency” prior to the spill to clean up the Minerals Management Service, accused of corruption and poor regulation of drilling rigs and wells.