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U.S. in Talks with Cuba Over Containing Oil Leak

May 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s been nearly a month since it began, and, tonight, we talk to a BP executive about the company’s role and response to the disaster — but, first, this update on the day’s developments.

As a blanket of oil edged its way into the marshlands of Southern Louisiana, there was still uncertainty today about where the slick is headed and how it might finally be contained. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said this afternoon that thicker oil is now hitting his state’s wetlands.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: You’re beginning to see the heavier oil. You didn’t see this heavy oil off the coast a couple of days ago. And, so, again, the concern is, is this oil coming submerged oil? Is this oil coming in? And part of the concern for us is, the tides have come and gone. They have not taken the oil out.

JEFFREY BROWN: The State Department confirmed it was in rare talks with the Cuban government, amid fears that strong currents could carry the oil far eastward.

There was some good news as well. The Coast Guard said today that TARP balls that washed up in Southern Florida were unrelated to the spill.

And, in Louisiana today, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said weather conditions were helping.

REAR ADMIRAL MARY LANDRY, U.S. coast guard: Folks are working tirelessly along the shoreline. We did have some impact, more impact on the shoreline in the Mississippi Delta area than previously. And, so, folks are really aggressively out there with strategies to protect the marshes.

JEFFREY BROWN: BP, which leased the sunken rig, also said it was having more success and now capturing 3,000 barrels of oil a day from a tube inserted into the busted pipeline to a ship on the surface.

But just what proportion of the spill that represents remains a question. Federal officials and BP originally estimated the rig was gushing at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, but outside experts say that figure could be 10 times higher.

Far from the Gulf shores, more anger today from members of Congress about BP’s ability to handle a spill of this magnitude.

Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar:

REP. JAMES OBERSTAR, D-Minn.: Almost a month has passed. The response plan and its proven equipment and technology have failed to stop most of the continuing oil discharge or to contain most of the oil already discharged.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, in his opening statement, the committee’s ranking Republican took aim at government oversight in the events leading to the rig’s failure.

REP. JOHN MICA, R-Fla.: All of the actions to ensure that safety was — safety measures were put in place have to be attributed to the Obama administration. What I have done is outline — I call this the Obama oil spill timeline.

The Obama administration issued — and I think this is the first time we have a public copy of this — this is their approval. It’s basically a carte blanche recipe for disaster, because they did not require extraordinary measures.

JEFFREY BROWN: Chairman Oberstar, a Democrat, took issue with that characterization.

REP. JAMES OBERSTAR: I think it’s inflammatory to call it the Obama oil spill and wrong. Those approvals that the gentleman cited were given early in the Obama administration by careerists who were not policy appointees.

JEFFREY BROWN: BP’s Lamar McKay was asked about the chemical dispersants being used at the wellhead to break up the gusher. The Environmental Protection Agency gave approval to its use just last week.

Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon asked why BP selected the chemicals it did.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO, D-Ore.: There are others that — EPA measures that’s more effective on this grade of oil and less toxic. Why aren’t you using those? Because I’m concerned about what’s in the water column here and what we’re not seeing.

LAMAR MCKAY, president and chairman, BP America, Inc.: We’re using the pre-approved dispersants. I believe…

REP. PETER DEFAZIO: Well, there are 13 pre-approved, but there are some that are less toxic and more effective on this. It comes from a company in which you don’t have anyone sitting on the board. This is coming from a company where you do have someone sitting on the board.

JEFFREY BROWN: Also today, the Obama administration proposed eliminating the agency that oversees offshore drilling and manages leases. It would divide it into three separate entities to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.