Oil gushing from the BP well off the coast of Louisiana could surge to 60,000 barrels a day if the company's plan to cap it with a four-story metal container fails, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Wednesday after he met with oil industry executives.
The hope is that the container would sit on top of the ruptured oil pipe like an upside down funnel and suck up much, if not all, of the oil that would otherwise continue to contaminate the Gulf of Mexico.
A BP executive said that crews were able to cap the smallest of the three leaks pouring into the Gulf by "cutting it off with a slip valve."
President Obama, meanwhile, said there will be no bailout for BP on the oil spill. The president said his administration, in the context of a comprehensive energy bill, is supporting efforts under way on Capitol Hill to increase the Oil Pollution Act penalties "significantly above the current cap of $75 million."
Even under current law, however, there is no cap in cases where a company is found to have been grossly negligent, to have engaged in misconduct or to have violated federal regulations.
Right-wing advocates of "small government," ironically, have ramped up their calls for government action. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called on the Obama administration to give BP more help. Vitter, who said during the health care debate that "government is inherently ineffective and incompetent," said Wednesday that the government should be doing much more to assist BP in the cleanup. Conservative governors in the region are also demanding intervention, resources and money from the federal government in response to the oil spill disaster.
There were signs that BP was stepping up efforts to shift the blame for the spill. CEO Tony Hayward said the explosion on April 20 that caused the spill and killed 11 workers was not the fault of BP but the fault of the owners of the deep sea rig itself.
He said that BP was nevertheless taking responsibility for a cleanup that involves a number of methods in addition to the placement of a containment dome. One of those has been the use of oil-displacement chemicals to keep the oil from reaching the vulnerable coast.
Wildlife watchdog groups are warning that the oil-dispersing chemicals carry their own environmental risks, making a toxic soup that can endanger marine creatures.
Several leaders from coastal states including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and six U.S. senators have called on President Obama to reverse his offshore drilling plan. The senators included Ben Cardin, D-Md., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
The effects of the oil spill on the Gulf economy have only begun to be measured.
The fishing and shellfishing industries in the Gulf are rapidly shutting down. Boats are anchored and processing locations and plants are silent.
Many other businesses are feeling the effects.
The most immediate threat, however, is to 300,000 acres of coastal wetlands in the Mississippi Delta.
They include 10 national wildlife refuge areas where hundreds of species live. The wetlands are a natural protective barrier from hurricanes for more than 2 million people, and provide a living for hundreds of thousands. The latest trajectory map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the oil slick moving ever closer to those wetlands.