A summary of events on Wednesday, June 16, Day 57 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.
President Barack Obama wrested a $20 billion compensation guarantee and an apology to the nation from BP, announcing the company would set up a major claims fund for shrimpers, restaurateurs and others whose lives and livelihoods are being wrecked by the oil flooding into the Gulf of Mexico. Applause broke out during a community meeting in Orange Beach, Ala., on the news. "We asked for that two weeks ago and they laughed at us," Mayor Tony Kennon said. "Thank you, President Obama, for taking a bunch of rednecks' suggestion and making it happen."
BP said it will suspend its dividend for the rest of this year and set up the $20 billion fund to assure victims of the Gulf oil spill that they will be compensated for their losses. The British oil giant also will cut spending and sell some assets to deal with the cleanup and compensation costs, which have already hit $1.75 billion. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg announced the moves Wednesday after emerging from the White House, where he and other BP executives met for four hours with Obama.
The "small people" of the Gulf Coast have a humongous message for oil giant BP: They're tired of the company's big-time executives making insensitive comments. Svanberg told reporters in Washington: "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people." Justin Taffinder of New Orleans was not amused. "We're not small people. We're human beings. They're no greater than us. We don't bow down to them. We don't pray to them," Taffinder said.
HAYWARD ON THE HILL
BP CEO Tony Hayward expects to tell Congress he is "personally devastated" by the Gulf drilling rig explosion and oil spill and understands the anger Americans feel toward him and his company. The explosion and sinking of the rig "never should have happened — and I am deeply sorry that they did," he said in testimony to be delivered to a House panel Thursday. "My sadness has only grown as the disaster continues." A copy of Hayward's testimony was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
BP began burning oil siphoned from the ruptured well as part of its plans to more than triple the amount of crude it can stop from reaching the sea, the company said. BP PLC said oil and gas siphoned from the well first reached a semi-submersible drilling rig on the ocean surface around 1 a.m. Once that gas reaches the rig, it will be mixed with compressed air, shot down a specialized boom made by Schlumberger Ltd. and ignited at sea. It's the first time this particular burner has been deployed in the Gulf of Mexico.
Journalists covering the oil spill have been yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest in the nearly three weeks since the government promised improved media access. Adm. Thad Allen issued a May 31 directive to BP and federal officials ensuring media access to sites along the coast. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles followed up with a letter to news organizations, saying the company supports people's rights to share their thoughts with reporters. But those efforts have done little to curtail the obstacles, harassment and intimidation tactics journalists are facing while covering the spill.
Marine scientists studying the effects of the BP disaster are seeing some strange — and troubling — phenomena. Fish and other wildlife are fleeing the oil out in the Gulf and clustering in cleaner waters along the coast. But that is not the hopeful sign it might appear to be, researchers say. The animals' presence close to shore means their usual habitat is badly polluted, and the crowding could result in mass die-offs as fish run out of oxygen. Also, the animals could easily get devoured by predators.
RESTORING THE COAST
After 50 years of watching wetlands created by the fertile Mississippi River turn into open water, Louisiana residents finally got what they'd long awaited: A U.S. president saying he'll fight to save what little is left along their eroding coast. Though details were vague, President Barack Obama's pledge to restore the Gulf Coast's degraded coast line has multibillion-dollar implications for the region's culture and economy and could preserve wildlife endangered by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In an Oval Office address Tuesday night, Obama said he was committed to making sure southern Louisiana, which is hemorrhaging a football field of marshland every 38 minutes, and other coastlines are saved.