RAY SUAREZ: BP worked today to cut back how much oil is still escaping from that well in the Gulf of Mexico. It also came under growing pressure to set aside huge sums for damage claims, all of this as President Obama was back at the scene of the spill.
The president’s arrival in Biloxi, Mississippi, marked the start of a two-day visit to the Gulf region to inspect response efforts firsthand. Three earlier trips were to Louisiana. His latest tour focused on Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
The first stop was Gulfport, Mississippi, for a briefing by Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen and local officials. The president acknowledged complaints of disorganized efforts to keep the oil offshore.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One of the things that came out of this discussion is, how do we make sure that there’s effective coordination in terms of skimmers, vessels of opportunity that are out in the water right now. Can we make sure that they are responding as quickly as possible to the oil before it starts getting closer to the shore?
RAY SUAREZ: Later, Mr. Obama met with Gulfport residents, heard their frustrations after living with the spill for 56 days. Then it was on to Theodore, Alabama, to survey the cleanup operation and tour a staging and decontamination facility.
BARACK OBAMA: Now, I can’t promise folks here in Theodore or across the Gulf Coast that the oil will be cleaned up overnight. It will not be. It’s going to take time for things to return to normal.
And in the end, I am confident that we’re going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before.
RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, BP expedited plans to collect up to two million gallons of oil a day from the damaged wellhead by the end of June. Right now, a cap-and-containment operation is siphoning some 630,000 gallons of oil each day. Starting tomorrow, crews plan to capture and burn an additional 400,000 gallons a day.
The company has also installed undersea sensors to gauge just how much crude is spewing out. But U.S. House investigators suggested the loss of the offshore rig Deepwater Horizon in April was partly due to BP cost-cutting. They released internal documents, including one that called it a nightmare well.
All the while, there’s been growing pressure to launch a more aggressive response.
LISA INGRAM, resident of Mobile, Al.a: There’s no end to this that we know of right now. We can send a man to the moon, but we can’t cap an oil well? It’s ridiculous. In this technology time, that is ridiculous.
BARACK OBAMA: We are in this for the long haul. And…
RAY SUAREZ: The president will try to respond to that pressure when he returns to Washington tomorrow night. He plans a nationally televised prime-time address, his first from the Oval Office.
White House aides say he’s pressing BP to set up an escrow account for damage claims to be independently managed. He will raise that issue with BP executives in a meeting Wednesday.
BARACK OBAMA: So far, we have had a constructive conversation. And my hope is, is that by the time the chairman and I meet on Wednesday that we’ve made sufficient progress that we can start actually seeing a structure that would be in place.
RAY SUAREZ: In London today, BP’s board considered the escrow issue, as well as U.S. demands that the company suspend second-quarter dividend payments.