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U.S. Raises Pressure on BP to Stop Oil Leak, Clean Up Spill

Oil has washed ashore along more than 65 miles
U.S. interior secretary Ken Salazar. Photographer: Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg

U.S. officials turned up pressure on BP Plc over its damaged Gulf of Mexico oil well with visits to the region and a promise to “push them out of the way” if the company doesn’t do enough to halt the leak and clean up the mess.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spoke to reporters outside of BP’s Houston offices yesterday after meeting with the scientific team working on a new bid to stop the damaged well from gushing oil into the Gulf.

“I am angry and I am frustrated that BP has been unable to stop this well from leaking and to stop the pollution from spreading,” Salazar said. “We are 33 days into this effort, and deadline after deadline has been missed.”

BP said it plans to try again by May 26 to stop the leaking oil by pumping heavy drilling mud down the well to counter the flow, a method it calls “top kill.” The method is vulnerable to complications that could prevent its success, Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said yesterday in Houston. “So don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.”

President Barack Obama’s administration is facing rising criticism that it’s been too lax in its oversight of BP in the crisis. BP’s well was damaged in an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers.

“If we find that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately and we’ll move forward to make sure that everything is being done to protect the people of the Gulf Coast, the ecological values of the Gulf Coast and the values of the American people,” Salazar said.

Resources Lacking

Obama yesterday named Democrat Bob Graham, a former Florida governor, and Republican William Reilly, a former EPA administrator, to lead a commission to investigate the spill.

Oil has washed ashore along more than 65 miles (105 kilometers) of Gulf coastline, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said yesterday at a news conference. “It is clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here,” Jindal said.

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, questioned why the Obama administration has taken “so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there, and grasp the complexity and the potential tragedy that we are seeing here in the Gulf of Mexico,” according to a transcript of an interview on Fox News Sunday.

The government is keeping a close watch over BP’s response to the oil spill, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” When U.S. officials give BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward directions on problems, they get a prompt reply, he said.

BP’s Hayward ‘Trustworthy’

“I trust Tony Hayward,” Allen said. “When I talk to him, I get an answer.”

Allen said the leaking well has become a “very large, complicated spill” that requires “fighting a multifront war.” Officials are concerned about oil washing ashore around Port Fourchon in Louisiana, he said, and tar balls showing up as far east as Alabama and Mississippi.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said during a conference call yesterday that BP was directed to double its work crews in some areas on the clean-up effort.

Three of Obama’s top officials plan to be in the Gulf Coast region this week, including Salazar, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Backup Plans

BP, based in London, has several backup plans in case its top kill effort fails to stop the oil leak, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Though the procedure has been successful in wells on land, it has never been tried under these circumstances, with a well 5,000 feet below the water’s surface.

If it fails, BP says it may try attaching a piece of equipment with valves to shut off the flow, or use another containment structure to divert more oil to the surface. BP is drilling two “relief” wells to plug the well permanently that will be finished in August.

The company continues to divert some of the leaking crude to a ship using a mile-long pipe, and has captured an average of about 2,010 barrels of oil a day since May 17, Mark Salt, a company spokesman, said in an interview yesterday.

A team of government and academic scientists may report this week how much oil is leaking from the well, after independent scientists told Congress the crude was coming out at more than 10 times the 5,000-barrel-a-day estimate BP and the government have given since April 28.

EPA officials renewed discussion yesterday with BP about its use of Nalco Holding Co.’s Corexit oil dispersant to break the oil into small droplets that may eventually be digested by microbes, the Coast Guard’s Landry said. About 785,000 gallons of dispersant have been applied so far, according to BP and government officials, and the EPA has asked BP to find less toxic alternatives.

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