WASHINGTON (CN) - In his visit to the Gulf Coast on Sunday, President Obama said the federal government has been "relentless" in its response to the oil spill, but BP is ultimately responsible for the disaster. "BP will be paying the bill," Obama said.
A BP oil spill 10 years ago in Long Beach, Calif., brought precisely the same response. A coast guard official said at the time that BP had promised to pay for the entire cost of cleanup, a promise that was not kept. The oil giant only paid a part of that cleanup cost, after public attention shifted elsewhere.
Over the weekend, Obama replayed the opening portion of that past sequence of events, saying BP would pay for it all.
He called the spill "a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster," in an address to a crowd in Venice, La., the town closest to the source of the spill.
"The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our Gulf states and it could extend for a long time," Obama said.
The massive spill, still estimated to be gushing oil at a rate of 5,000 barrels per day, resulted from the April 20 explosion of the Transocean drilling platform Deepwater Horizon, 52 miles southeast of Louisiana. Eleven people are presumed dead from the explosion.
Obama said that immediately after the platform sank on Thursday, April 22, the administration dispatched remotely operated vehicles to crawl along the 5,000 feet of pipe connecting the platform to the wellhead. The search
yielded three leaks in the pipeline.
"We already had by that time in position more than 70 vessels and hundreds of thousands of feet of boom," Obama said.
"From day one we have prepared and planned for the worst, even as we hoped for the best," he said. But he said the government is not responsible for the spill.
"Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill," Obama said.
BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward said the company is "fully committed to taking all possible steps to contain the spread of the oil spill."
Speaking from Houma, La., on Sunday, Hayward said, "I agree with the president that the top priority right now is to stop the leak and mitigate the damage. I reiterated my commitment to the White House today that BP will do anything and everything we can to stop the leak, attack the spill offshore, and protect the shorelines of the Gulf Coast."
According to BP, more than 2,500 people are working on cleanup efforts. In addition to booming, skimming and applying chemical dispersants, BP started onshore emergency response efforts in Venice, Louisiana; Pascagoula
and Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. BP is stocking the outposts with hundreds of thousands of feet of boom designed to protect the fragile shoreline.
"We are determined to fight this spill on all fronts," Hayward said.
Obama named top ranking Coast Guard official Admiral Thad Allen as National Incident Commander for the spill to help ensure that BP fulfills its cleanup responsibilities.
Allen said the government has been responding to the worst-case scenario since the beginning.
"The deployment of our equipment was not related to any of the early estimates related to 1,000 barrels a day or 5,000 barrels a day," Allen said. "Our preparations were for something way beyond that, and we continue
to stage large amounts of equipment, and direct BP to do the things that they're responsible for."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reiterated Allen's statement. "This was a situation that was treated as a possible catastrophic failure from Day 1," she said. Napolitano declared the disaster "a spill of national significance" last week, igniting a widespread federal response.
"All of these actions are being taken, but BP is going to pay for it," Napolitano said.
Cleanup efforts are currently costing the lease owners about $6 million per
day, BP estimates.
On the TV show "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, "The scenario is a very grave scenario. You're looking at potentially 90 days before you ultimately get to what is the ultimate solution here, and that's a relief well that's going to have to be built down three and a half miles below the ocean floor. And by the time you drill that well down, a lot of oil could spread."
BP estimated that the drilling of a relief well could take two to three months.
"This is the beginning of a campaign for what's going to be a massive restoration of the Gulf coast," Salazar said.
Duke University biologist Larry Crowder warned that the oil spill could hit the environmentally sensitive Florida Keys and move up the East Coast.
Obama called the southeastern shores the "heartbeat of the region's economic life," and said the government is committed to "help this region persevere like it has done so many times before."
The government agencies and companies involved in response efforts are operating a Web site, www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com, to provide information regarding the crisis. The site provides information on how to report oiled wildlife or spill-related damage, and offers ideas for response efforts.
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