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BP Says It's Doing 'Everything We Can' to Plug Gulf Oil Leak

052410_oil

May 22: Oil from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead washes up on the beach of Elmer's Island, a wildlife refuge, owned and maintained by the state of Louisiana (Reuters).

BARATARIA BAY, La. -- The executive in charge of fighting a Gulf of Mexico oil spill acknowledged Monday everyone is frustrated at BP's failure to plug the ocean gusher more than a month into a disaster that is spreading damage in Louisiana's wetlands, including miring pelican colonies.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer at BP PLC, went on all three U.S. network morning talks shows with the same message: BP knows frustration is growing that it hasn't been able to halt the spill of millions of gallons of oil from a well that blew out after a rig explosion April 20 off the Lousiana coast.

"We are doing everything we can, everything I know," Suttles said on the NBC "Today" show.

The Obama administration questioned BP's competence Sunday, when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told reporters he was "not completely" confident that BP knows what it's doing.

"If we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately," Salazar said.

Asked about Salazar's criticism, Suttles said BP is working with experts from other oil companies and the government to find a solution.

"What I do know is, everyone is frustrated. I think the people of the region are frustrated. I know we are, I know the government is," Suttles said on NBC. "The fact that it's taken this long is painful to everybody."

Suttles said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that BP's next shot at plugging the well this week stands a very good chance of success. But he said the global oil company has more plans in case the latest efforts fails, like several before it.

BP plans to use heavy mud and cement to stop the breach, a maneuver called a top kill. Suttles said on the CBS "Early Show" the effort should start Wednesday morning and they'll know the same day if it works.

The White House said Sunday the Justice Department has been gathering information about the oil spill. Press secretary Robert Gibbs didn't say whether the department has opened a criminal investigation. He would only tell CBS' "Face the Nation" that department representatives have been to the Gulf as part of the response to the oil leak.

Salazar and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were to lead a Senate delegation to the region Monday to fly over affected areas.

BP said Monday its costs for responding to the spill had grown to about $760 million, including containment efforts, drilling a relief well to stop the leak permanently, grants to Gulf states for their response costs and paying damage claims. BP said it's too early to calculate other potential costs and liabilities.

Even if BP's top kill procedure works this week, the damage has been done.

On Sunday, some brown pelicans coated in oil couldn't fly away on Barataria Bay of the Louisiana coast. All they could do was hobble. Their usually brown and white feathers were jet black, and eggs were glazed with rust-colored gunk.

When wildlife officials tried to rescue one of the pelicans, the birds became spooked. Officials weren't sure whether they would try again, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Stacy Shelton said it is sometimes better to leave the animals alone than to disturb their colony.

Pelicans are especially vulnerable to oil because they dive into the water to feed. They could eat tainted fish and feed it to their young, or they could die of hypothermia or drown if their feathers become soaked in oil. Just six months ago, the birds had been removed from the federal endangered species list.

With oil pushing at least 12 miles into Louisiana's marshes and two major pelican rookeries now coated in crude, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the state has begun work on a chain of berms, reinforced with containment booms, that would skirt the state's coastline.

"As we talk, a total of more than 65 miles of our shoreline now has been oiled," Jindal said.

Jindal, who visited one of the affected pelican nesting grounds Sunday, said the berms would close the door on oil still pouring from a mile-deep gusher about 50 miles out in the Gulf. The berms would be made with sandbags; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is considering a broader plan that would use dredging to build sand berms across more of the barrier islands.

At least 6 million gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf, though some scientists have said they believe the spill already surpasses the 11 million-gallon 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska as the worst in U.S. history.

A mile-long tube operating for about a week has siphoned off more than half a million gallons in the past week, but it began sucking up oil at a slower rate over the weekend. Even at its best, the effort did not capture all the oil leaking.

The spill's impact now stretches across 150 miles, from Dauphin Island, Ala. to Grand Isle, La.

On Sunday, oil reached an 1,150-acre oyster ground leased by Belle Chasse, La., fisherman Dave Cvitanovich. He said cleanup crews were stringing lines of absorbent boom along the surrounding marshes, but that still left large clumps of rust-colored oil floating over his oyster beds. Mature oysters might eventually filter out the crude and become fit for sale, but this year's crop of spate, or young oysters, will perish.

"Those will die in the oil," Cvitanovich said. "It's inevitable."

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