President Barack Obama promised that life would return to normal for people living on the stricken Gulf Coast, and BP said by the end of the month it would contain more than three times as much oil spewing from a ruptured undersea well.
The pledges didn’t placate some residents.
“I think that as long as BP is still in control, there’s not a lot he can do other than show support for the residents of these Gulf states,” Jennifer Jenkins, 34, of Long Beach, said of Obama.
The president visited Mississippi and Alabama Monday as part of a two-day stop. He sought to assure residents — and the country — that the government will “leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before.” He visits Florida on Tuesday ahead of a national address on the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, which has become a stern test of his presidency.
His trip coincided with BP announcing that it could trap a maximum of roughly 2.2 million gallons of oil daily by the end of June as it deploys additional containment efforts, including a system that could start burning off vast quantities as early as Tuesday.
It also came as documents revealed that BP made a series of money-saving shortcuts and blunders that dramatically increased the danger of a destructive spill from a well that an engineer ominously described as a “nightmare” just six days before the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Investigators found that BP was badly behind schedule on the project and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars with each passing day, and responded by cutting corners in the well design, cementing and drilling mud efforts and the installation of key safety devices.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee released dozens of internal documents that outline several problems on the deep-sea rig in the days and weeks before the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and set in motion the catastrophe. The committee has been investigating.
“Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense. If this is what happened, BP’s carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig,” said Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Bart Stupak.
During the address from the Oval Office, Obama will announce new steps to restore the Gulf Coast ecosystem, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president’s announcements.
“I can’t promise folks … that the oil will be cleaned up overnight. It will not be,” Obama said during a speech in Alabama. But, he added, “things are going to return to normal.”
Residents, though, were skeptical that the economic and environmental destruction would improve any time soon.
Watching oil flow through Perdido Pass in Alabama’s Gulf Coast, former Navy firefighter Clayton Ard said he wished Obama would break up the unified command responding to the crisis and let local governments handle it with more autonomy.
“It’s just a huge bureaucracy that’s slowing things down. … We want to stop the oil now, but we can’t do anything,” Ard said.
The breached well has dumped as much as 114 million gallons of oil into the Gulf under the worst-case scenario described by scientists — a rate of more than 2 million a day. BP has collected 5.6 million gallons of oil through its latest containment cap on top of the well, or about 630,000 gallons per day.
To trap more oil faster, BP would continue to siphon off the flow from a containment cap sitting above the well to a drill ship sitting on the ocean surface. More oil from the blowout preventer — a stack of pipes sitting on the seafloor — also would be drawn through hoses and pipes to a drilling rig where it will be burned using a specialized flare.
Still, BP warned its containment efforts could be hampered if hoses or pipes clog and as engineers struggle to run the complicated collection system.
Also, BP spokesman Bill Salvin told The Associated Press that the company has contracted with actor Kevin Costner and Ocean Therapy Solutions to use 32 of their centrifuge machines that are designed to separate oil from water.
“We recognized they had potential and put them through testing, and that testing was done in shallow water and in very deep water and we were very pleased by the results,” Salvin said.
Meanwhile, congressional investigators have identified several mistakes by BP in the weeks leading up to the disaster.
In the design of the well, the company apparently chose a riskier option among two possibilities to provide a barrier to the flow of gas in space surrounding steel tubes in the well, documents and internal e-mails show. The decision saved BP $7 million to $10 million; the original cost estimate for the well was about $96 million.
In an e-mail, BP engineer Brian Morel told a fellow employee that the company is likely to make last-minute changes in the well.
“We could be running it in 2-3 days, so need a relative quick response. Sorry for the late notice, this has been nightmare well which has everyone all over the place,” Morel wrote.
BP also apparently rejected advice of a subcontractor, Halliburton Inc., in preparing for a cementing job to close up the well. BP rejected Halliburton’s recommendation to use 21 “centralizers” to make sure the casing ran down the center of the well bore. Instead, BP used six centralizers.
Asked about the details disclosed from the investigation, BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the company’s main focus right now is on the response and stopping the flow of oil.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment while an investigation is ongoing.”
Associated Press Writers Erica Werner in Theodore, Ala., Jay Reeves in Orange Beach, Ala., and Harry R. Weber in Houston contributed to this report. Daly contributed from Washington.
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