Monday, May 31, 2010

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NYTimes | The Obama administration scrambled to respond on Sunday after the failure of the latest effort to kill the gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But administration officials acknowledged the possibility that tens of thousands of gallons of oil might continue pouring out until August, when two relief wells are scheduled to be completed.

“We are prepared for the worst,” said Carol M. Browner, President Obama’s climate change and energy policy adviser. “We have been prepared from the beginning.”

Even as the White House sought to demonstrate that it was taking a more direct hand in trying to solve the problem, senior officials acknowledged that the new technique BP will use to try to cap the leak — severing the riser pipe and placing a containment dome over the cut riser — could temporarily result in as much as 20 percent more oil flowing into the water during the three days to a week before the new device could be in place.

“This is obviously a difficult situation,” Ms. Browner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, “but it’s important for people to understand that from the beginning, the government has been in charge.”

“We have been directing BP to take important steps,” including the drilling of a second relief well, she added.

The White House said that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar would make his eighth trip to the region and that the number of government and contract employees sent to work in areas affected by the spill would be tripled.

But despite the White House efforts, the criticism also intensified. Colin L. Powell, who served as secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC’s “This Week” that the administration must move in quickly with “decisive force and demonstrate that it’s doing everything that it can do.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, appearing on “Meet the Press,” again criticized the administration’s efforts, saying: “We need our federal government exactly for this kind of crisis. I think there could have been a greater sense of urgency.”

The administration has left to BP most decisions about how to move forward with efforts to contain the leak. But Ms. Browner made a point of saying that the administration, led by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, had told BP that the company should stop the top kill. Government officials thought it was too dangerous to keep pumping drilling mud into the well because they worried it was putting too much pressure on it. BP announced Saturday evening that it was ending that effort.


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