/ 8 June 2010

Obama wants to know ‘whose ass to kick’ over oil spill

Obama Wants To Know 'whose Ass To Kick' Over Oil Spill

United States President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he wanted to know “whose ass to kick” over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, set to devastate the coast’s fragile economy and environment for years.

Although Obama has travelled to the Gulf three times since the April 20 rig explosion, some critics charge he has been slow to lead and not tough enough.

But the president insisted that on his first visit a month ago, he warned “about what a potential crisis this could be”.

“I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answer so I know whose ass to kick,” Obama told NBC television’s Today show as he bared a spot of raw emotion over the disaster.

As BP increased the amount of oil it is capturing from a ruptured well to nearly half-a-million gallons of crude a day, the US administration pressured the British energy giant to step up compensation payouts to residents whose livelihoods have been shattered.

“What is clear is that the economic impact of this disaster is going to be substantial, and it is going to be ongoing,” Obama said on Monday after meeting with top officials in the latest attempt to show his administration is on top of the crisis.

His assessment was echoed by his point man on the spill, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who said that while the clean-up would take months, it would take years to restore environments and habitats.

‘Encouraging step’
Meanwhile, more and more sea birds have turned up at rescue centres coated in oily goop as the slick breaks into thousands of ribbons threatening shores from Louisiana to Florida.

Allen said BP had succeeded in capturing 11 000 barrels (462 000 gallons) of oil from the containment cap, 1 600m below the surface, in a 24-hour period that ended early on Monday, and planned to soon boost production to 20 000 barrels.

A top company official said BP has collected a total of 28 000 barrels of oil from the ruptured well. “This is an encouraging step,” BP senior vice-president Kent Wells told a press briefing.

But Allen said it remained unclear just how much oil was escaping from the ruptured wellhead, and what proportion of the escaping crude was being captured since the blast that ripped through the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform.

Government models estimate the oil’s flow rate at between 12 000 and 25 000 barrels a day, meaning that only a portion of the crude is likely being captured so far.

Wells said a more durable “direct connect” containment measure would be installed by mid-June to increase the amount of oil and gas that can be captured from the well, as his firm said it had spent at least $1,25-billion on mitigating the disaster.

As part of a previous pledge to fund six berms in the Louisiana barrier islands project, at a cost of $360-million, BP announced it would make an immediate payment of $60-million to the state of Louisiana.

And the firm is looking at hurricane-resistant methods for siphoning up oil in the event that a major storm strikes before relief wells are due to be completed in mid-August, officials said.

Negative view
Meanwhile, a new poll showed that the spill could be turning into a major political liability for the president, with more Americans taking a negative view of the US response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill than to US relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

A month and a half after the BP spill began, the poll by ABC news and the Washington Post found that 69% of respondents gave a negative rating to the federal government response, compared with 62% who negatively rated the government’s handling of Katrina two weeks after that devastating August 2005 hurricane.

The George Bush administration’s indifferent response to the hurricane is widely viewed as a major factor that led to a steep decline in the president’s performance ratings, from which he never recovered.

The massive Gulf oil spill has forced the closure of valuable fishing grounds, blighting the livelihoods of many residents in an area also heavily dependent on tourism.

Almost 600 birds have been found dead by wildlife rescue workers in coastal states — including Alabama, Florida and Mississippi — as well as for the first time in Texas, while another 223 were found alive covered in oil. — AFP