Obama administration officials stepped up their criticism of BP for the massive Gulf oil spill on Sunday, saying if it can’t clean up the mess they might push away the company, which leased the rig and is responsible for the cleanup.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he is “not completely” confident that BP knows what it’s doing.
“If we find they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately,” Mr. Salazar said. But federal officials have acknowledged that BP has expertise that they lack in stopping the deep-water leak.
Mr. Salazar and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were to lead a Senate delegation to the region on Monday to fly over affected areas and keep an eye on the response.
The well has spewed untold millions of litres of oil since an offshore rig exploded more than a month ago. The leak may not be completely stopped until a relief well is dug, a project that could take months. Another effort that BP said will begin on Tuesday at the earliest will shoot heavy mud, and then cement, into the blown well, but that method has never been attempted before in the 1.6-km-deep water and engineers are not sure it will work.
“As we talk, a total of more than 100 km of our shoreline now has been oiled,” said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who announced new efforts to keep the spill from spreading.
A 1.6-km-long tube operating for about a week has siphoned off more than 1.9 million litres in the past week, but it began sucking up oil at a slower rate over the weekend. Even at its best the effort did not capture all the oil leaking, and the next attempt to stanch the flow won’t be put into action until at least Tuesday.
With oil pushing at least 19 km into Louisiana’s marshes and two major pelican rookeries now coated in crude, Jindal said the state has begun work on chain of berms, reinforced with containment booms, that would skirt the state’s coastline.
Mr. Jindal, who visited one of the affected nesting grounds on Sunday, said the berms would close the door on oil still pouring from a km-deep gusher about 80 km out in the Gulf. The berms would be made with sandbags and sand hauled in; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is considering a broader plan that would use dredging to build sand berms across more of the barrier islands.
At least 22.7 million litres of crude have spewed into the Gulf, though some scientists have said they believe the spill already surpasses the 41.64-million-litre Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 off Alaska as the worst in U.S. history.