BP: cap gets some Gulf oil, but crude still spews
Grand Isle, La. (AP) — BP reported some oil was flowing up a pipe Friday from a cap it wrestled onto its broken Gulf of Mexico well but crude still spewed and it was unclear how much could be captured in the latest bid to tame the nation's worst oil spill.
President Barack Obama was set to visit the Louisiana coast Friday, his second trip in a week and the third since the disaster unfolded following an April 20 oil rig explosion.
Meanwhile, gooey blobs of oil tar were washing ashore in growing numbers on the white-sand beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore as a slick from the spill approached the Florida Panhandle.
County emergency officials reported that spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number early Friday along the national park shore and nearby beaches. The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola, Fla.
The government's point man for the crisis, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said the cap's installation atop a severed pipe late Thursday was a positive development but it was too early to tell if will work. The funnel-like lid is designed to channel oil for pumping to a surface tanker.
"Even if successful, this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf's precious coastline," Allen said in a statement.
BP's Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said it will be later in the day before they know how much is being captured.
"There is flow coming up the pipe. Just now, I don't know the exact rate," Suttles said on NBC's "Today" show.
Robots a mile beneath the Gulf positioned the lid over the main pipe on the leaking well Thursday night. Live video footage, though, showed that the oil seemed unimpeded.
To put the cap in place, BP had to slice off the pipe with giant shears after a diamond-edged saw became stuck.
Suttles said some of the oil still pouring out came from vents deliberately placed to keep icelike crystals from forming that could block the funnel. BP will try to close those four vents in succession and reduce the spill, he said.
If the idea fails - like every other attempt to control the six-week-old leak - the best chance is probably a relief well, which is at least two months away. The well has spit out between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil since a rig exploded on April 20 about 50 miles from the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers. BP was leasing the rig and is responsible to fix and clean up the spill.
In oil-soaked Grand Isle, Jason French might as well have painted a bulls-eye on his back. His mission was to be BP's representative at a meeting for 50 or so residents who had gathered at a church to vent.
"We are all angry and frustrated," he said. "Feel free tonight to let me see that anger. Direct it at me, direct it at BP, but I want to assure you, the folks in this community, that we are working hard to remedy the situation."
Residents weren't buying it.
"Sorry doesn't pay the bills," said Susan Felio Price, a longtime resident.
"Through the negligence of BP we now find ourselves trying to roller-skate up a mountain," she said. "We're growing really weary. We're tired. We're sick and tired of being sick and tired. Someone's got to help us get to the top of that mountain."
President Barack Obama shared some of that anger ahead of his Gulf visit. He told CNN's Larry King that he was frustrated and used his strongest language in assailing BP.
"I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn't think through the consequences of their actions," Obama said. "This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years."
Meanwhile, newly disclosed internal Coast Guard documents from the day after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig indicated that U.S. officials were warning of a leak of 336,000 gallons per day of crude from the well in the event of a complete blowout.
The volume turned out to be much closer to that figure than the 42,000 gallons per day that BP first estimated. Weeks later that was revised to 210,000 gallons. Now, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude is believed to be leaking daily.
The Center for Public Integrity, which initially reported the Coast Guard logs, said it obtained them from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The logs also showed early in the disaster that remote underwater robots were unable to activate the rig's blowout preventer, which was supposed to shut off the flow from the well in the event of such a catastrophic failure.
The damage to the environment was chilling on East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast, where workers found birds coated in thick, black goo. Images shot by an Associated Press photographer show Brown pelicans drenched in thick oil, struggling and flailing in the surf.
BP CEO Tony Hayward promised that the company would clean up every drop of oil and "restore the shoreline to its original state."
"BP will be here for a very long time. We realize this is just the beginning," he said.
Those on Grand Isle seemed less than convinced by BP's assurances.
"We want you to feel what we feel," said Leoda Bladsacker, a member of the town's council, as her voice trembled. "We're not going to be OK for a long, long time."
Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan in Washington and Paul J. Weber in Houston contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)