A summary of events on Friday, June 4, Day 45 of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with the April 20 explosion and fire on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well.
BP reported some oil was flowing up a pipe Friday from a cap it wrestled onto its broken Gulf of Mexico well. But crude still spewed and it was unclear how much could be captured in the latest bid to tame the nation's worst oil spill. The funnel-like lid is designed to channel oil for pumping to a surface tanker. The government's point man for the crisis, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said it was too early to tell if it will work — and it will be, at best, a temporary and partial fix.
BP's Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said it will be later in the day before they know how much is being captured. He said on NBC's "Today" show that some of the oil still pouring out came from vents deliberately placed to keep icelike crystals from forming and blocking the funnel. BP will try to close those four vents in succession and reduce the spill, he said.
Determined to project both command and compassion, President Barack Obama is returning to the Louisiana coast for a fresh reality check on work to stanch the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and the spiraling effects of the nation's worst environmental disaster. The president underscored his focus on the Gulf by abruptly canceling plans for a trip to Indonesia and Australia later this month.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates rejects a more forceful role for the military in plugging the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. Gates says the deep-water disaster is beyond the military's expertise. Oil company BP is using its own equipment to try to stop the leak — equipment the U.S. military does not have. Gates said Friday that the U.S. military is ready to do whatever it can to respond. But he said there isn't much the military can do beyond providing some manpower. There is a growing call for some kind of federal takeover of the spill, which has now been gushing for six weeks.
Parallels between the Ixtoc well disaster and the current BP oil spill offer sobering lessons. The 1979 spill began with a burst of gas through a well being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Workers scrambled to close safety valves. But within moments, the platform caught fire and collapsed. Numerous attempts to stanch the spill failed. Three decades later, it remains the world's worst peacetime oil spill, at 140 million gallons. Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex, tried methods similar to those that BP has attempted at its Deepwater Horizon rig. But it took 10 months to stop the leak.
Newly disclosed internal Coast Guard documents from the day after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig indicated that U.S. officials were warning of a leak of 336,000 gallons per day of crude from the well in the event of a complete blowout. The volume turned out to be much closer to that figure than the 42,000 gallons per day that BP first estimated. Weeks later that was revised to 210,000 gallons. Now, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude is believed to be leaking daily. The Center for Public Integrity, which initially reported the Coast Guard logs, said it obtained them from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Gooey blobs of oil tar are washing ashore in growing numbers on the white-sand beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore as a slick from the BP spill approaches the Florida Panhandle. County emergency officials reported that spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number early Friday along the national park shore and nearby beaches. The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola.
The damage to the environment was chilling on East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast, where workers found birds coated in thick, black goo. Images shot by an Associated Press photographer show brown pelicans drenched in thick oil, struggling and flailing in the surf. Authorities said 60 birds, including 41 pelicans, were being rescued. That more than doubled the number of birds at the rescue center next to Fort Jackson.
In oil-soaked Grand Isle, Jason French might as well have painted a bulls-eye on his back. His mission was to be BP's representative at a meeting for 50 or so residents who had gathered at a church to vent. French said everyone is angry and frustrated, and BP is working hard to fix things. Residents weren't buying it. "Sorry doesn't pay the bills," said Susan Felio Price, a longtime resident.
BP is establishing a $360 million escrow account to fund a project to build six sand berms that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal hopes will protect the state's wetlands from the growing Gulf of Mexico slick. Hours after Jindal urged the British oil giant to start doling out the payments immediately, the company said it had approved the accounts. The federal government on Wednesday ordered BP to pay for the project, which Jindal and other state officials have long sought.
Former first lady Laura Bush says she doesn't think President Barack Obama should be faulted for the continuing oil spill crisis in the Gulf Coast area. Interviewed on "Good Morning America," Mrs. Bush said she thinks everything possible is being done, and solving the problem cannot be one person's responsibility. She was asked about comparisons with the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina under the leadership of her husband, President George W. Bush. She declined to answer directly, but did say "there's always a lot of finger-pointing in something like this."