The White House announced today that President Obama will be back on the Gulf Coast Friday, as BP's top executive acknowledged the company had been completely unprepared for a deepwater oil spill.
BP CEO Tony Hayward told the Financial Times in London that it was "an entirely fair criticism" to say the company was not prepared for the type of spill caused by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.
Local experts and activists say that in addition to BP's continuing inability to stop the oil leak that is spreading through the Gulf waters and onto the coast, the company is mounting an inadequate cleanup response.
"They have 1,200 to 1,400 boats out there now. What we need is 10,000 boats - every single skimmer in the world needs to be enlisted," said Ed Overton, an environmentalist at the University of Louisiana.
"BP is either incompetent or lying," declared Rep. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. "It is clear they developed drilling technology but because of lack of regulation they didn't bother with developing a cleanup technology."
Markey warned on national television that the nation "can no longer afford to buy into oil industry advertisements about what it is doing."
BP said today its robots had cut through a pipe atop the blown out oil well.
The company used shears after a saw became stuck in the pipe halfway through the job, the latest in six weeks of failed attempts to slow down the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Environmentalists say that cutting the pipe today has actually increased the flow of oil into the Gulf, at least temporarily.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen also warned today that the pipe cut was jagged and placing a cap over the gusher would now be more difficult. It is not known how much oil BP can siphon to the surface once the cap is fitted.
The president's trip to the region will be his third since the April 20 oil rig explosion killed 11 workers and started spewing oil into the Gulf. It will be his second visit in a week.
The White House has ordered BP to fully fund Louisiana's plan to dredge up walls of sand to protect coastal marshes from the oil.
AP reported yesterday that conservative politicians throughout the Gulf are suddenly warming to government solutions. "All along the Gulf Coast, where the Tea Party thrives and 'socialism' is a common description for any government program, conservatives who usually denounce federal activism suddenly are clamoring for it," an AP article read.
The economic pain already felt by Louisiana's fishermen and the industries closest to them have pushed even Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, to call for more federal action.
The closing of oyster beds, shrimping grounds and crab habitats where oil has washed in has idled most of the fishermen. At least 100,000 jobs depend on the fisheries.
"We wait and we watch and we worry about where this is going," said Brad Robin, a fourth-generation oyster fisherman in Ycloskey, La. He said he has already had to lay off 50 workers who would normally be busy bringing in oysters and shrimp.
"All of us who do this love doing this," he said. "My family has done this for a long time and they love this life."
He said the oil now coming into the marshes "will destroy a habitat that we worked very hard to create. A lot of time, work and money is invested in oyster beds which we seed and create ourselves. If they can't cap that well now we will be destroyed, if we haven't been already. This is not just a matter of having to hold on through a temporary shutdown. If it were, we could survive that. No, we are facing the destruction of an entire ecosystem here. It's why I can't sleep at night."
Photo: Oil is collected in a skimming boom attached to a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, May 31. The cutter has been diverted from its routine duties to help with the response to the oil spill resulting from the explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Michael P. McGrew.