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Obama Heading to Gulf Coast for Update on Oil Spill

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President Obama pauses during a statement on the Gulf oil spill, and the first quarter GDP numbers, Friday, April 30, 2010, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP)

President Obama will go to the Gulf Coast in the next 48 hours for a firsthand assessment on efforts to contain the massive oil spill from an offshore drilling rig, a White House official said Saturday.

The White House was working out details of the visit, a senior administration official, adding that the president probably would bring along a smaller than usual entourage. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the trip had not been announced officially.

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Obama made no comment about the situation when he boarded a helicopter at the White House for the short flight to Andrews Air Force Base or when he walked on the tarmac to Air Force One.

Obama has said his administration will do all that it can to battle the spill, which came from a BP exploratory rig. The spill is already the worst in U.S. waters in decades.

Obama has relied on reports from agency chiefs and Coast Guard officials since the magnitude of the spill became clear late Wednesday. Aides report he's been getting regular updates.

Deputy press secretary Bill Burton said Obama got another update early Saturday before flying to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a commencement speech at the University of Michigan.

On Friday, Obama ordered Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to conduct an immediate review of rig safety in the Gulf and report back within 30 days if any new technologies are needed.

He promised that no new offshore oil drilling leases will be issued unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the explosion that unleashed the massive spill.

"We are going to make sure that any leases going forward have those safeguards," Obama said.

The step, however, was largely symbolic. No such leases are likely to come up for approval for several months, and the review was not expected to interrupt current drilling operations.

The spill came just weeks after Obama announced plans to open up large areas of the Eastern seaboard and a part of the Gulf for possible future oil drilling. And it's led to increasing calls to reconsider that initiative by environmentalists and coastal state lawmakers.

In his remarks Friday, Obama said he continues "to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security. But I've always said that it must be done responsibly for the safety of our workers and our environment."