"Relentless Efforts to Stop the Leak and Contain the Damage"

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This morning the President met with members of his Cabinet to get another comprehensive update on the ongoing Administration-wide response to the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf region. The President made clear his frustration with BP and the other parties involved in the spill, committed once again to ensuring they are held accountable for picking up the tab, and recapped the Administration’s efforts to tighten up the regulation of offshore drilling sites.

He began with the top priorities, however:

The potential devastation to the Gulf Coast, its economy, and its people require us to continue our relentless efforts to stop the leak and contain the damage.  There’s already been a loss of life, damage to our coastline, to fish and wildlife, and to the livelihoods of everyone from fishermen to restaurant and hotel owners.  I saw firsthand the anger and frustration felt by our neighbors in the Gulf.  And let me tell you, it is an anger and frustration that I share as President.  And I’m not going to rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil in the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of the Gulf are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods.

Now, the most important order of business is to stop the leak.  I know there have been varying reports over the last few days about how large the leak is, but since no one can get down there in person, we know there is a level of uncertainty.  But as Admiral Thad Allen said today, our mobilization and response efforts have always been geared toward the possibility of a catastrophic event.  And what really matters is this:  There’s oil leaking and we need to stop it –- and we need to stop it as soon as possible.  With that source being 5,000 feet under the ocean’s surface, this has been extremely difficult.  But scientists and engineers are currently using the best, most advanced technology that exists to try to stop the flow of oil as quickly as possible.

Our second task has been to contain the spill and protect the Gulf Coast and the people who live there.  We are using every available resource to stop the oil from coming ashore.  Over one million feet of barrier boom have been deployed to hold the oil back.  Hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersant have helped to break up the oil, and about four million gallons of oily water have been recovered; 13,000 people have been mobilized to protect the shoreline and its wildlife, as has the National Guard. 

The President also discussed the draft legislation sent to Congress this week to ensure that the government can respond as needed, and talked about accountability:

I know BP has committed to pay for the response effort, and we will hold them to their obligation.  I have to say, though, I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter.  You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else.  The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t.   

I understand that there are legal and financial issues involved, and a full investigation will tell us exactly what happened.  But it is pretty clear that the system failed, and it failed badly.  And for that, there is enough responsibility to go around.  And all parties should be willing to accept it. 

That includes, by the way, the federal government.  For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill.  It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies.  That cannot and will not happen anymore.  To borrow an old phrase, we will trust but we will verify. 

Now, from the day he took office as Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar has recognized these problems and he’s worked to solve them.  Oftentimes he has been slammed by the industry, suggesting that somehow these necessary reforms would impede economic growth.  Well, as I just told Ken, we are going to keep on going to do what needs to be done.

And so I’ve asked Secretary Salazar to conduct a top-to-bottom reform of the Minerals Management Service.  This week, he announced that the part of the agency which permits oil and gas drilling and collects royalties will be separated from the part of the agency in charge of inspecting the safety of oil rigs and platforms and enforcing the law.  That way, there’s no conflict of interest, real or perceived. 

He closed on a note of concern for those most affected:

The people of the Gulf Coast need our help, and they deserve nothing less than for us to stand up and do whatever is necessary to stop this spill, prevent further damage, and compensate all those who’ve been harmed already. That’s our job.

It’s also our job to make sure this kind of mess doesn’t happen again.  It’s a job we’ve been doing.  It’s a job we will keep doing until the well is capped and the spill is cleaned up, and all claims are paid.

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