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Officials assail BP for response to oil spill

In Fort Jackson, La., Dr. Erica Miller, left, and Danene Birtell tend to their first patient on Friday at an animal rescue operation, a young northern gannett covered in thick, black oil. The bird, found offshore, is normally white with a yellow head.

Associated Press

In Fort Jackson, La., Dr. Erica Miller, left, and Danene Birtell tend to their first patient on Friday at an animal rescue operation, a young northern gannett covered in thick, black oil. The bird, found offshore, is normally white with a yellow head.

NEW ORLEANS

Federal and state officials criticized BP on Friday for what they said was an inadequate response to the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They urged the oil company to do more to stop a leaking undersea oil well 50 miles offshore as floating crude oil imperiled the fragile marshes of the Gulf Coast.

At an afternoon news conference with other officials in Louisiana, Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, said he told BP officials and engineers "to work harder and faster and smarter to get the job done."

"Those responsible," he added, "will be held accountable."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said, "I do have concerns that BP's current resources are not adequate to meet the . . . challenges we face." For one, he said, the company had not managed to stop the well from leaking. For another, he said, the floating booms being used by the company had not been effective in halting the slick.

Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency in six Panhandle counties that could be hit by the spill early next week. The counties, which Crist said are facing "a major disaster," are Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf.

Crist's declaration, similar to the ones normally issued when a hurricane hits, allows him to call out the National Guard to help deal with the disaster and to tap into an emergency fund.

Crist and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole planned to fly to Pensacola over the weekend and inspect the preparations for the spill, which call for putting out thousands of booms to block the slick from reaching shore.

The disaster began with an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig last week, which sank and killed 11 people and left three more critically injured.

The rig was owned and operated by Transocean under lease to BP. Under federal law, BP must pay the cost of containing and cleaning up the oil.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

As the mile-deep BP well continued to spew an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude a day, one of more than two dozen lawsuits filed in the wake of the explosion said it was caused when workers for oil services contractor Halliburton Inc. improperly capped the well. Halliburton denied it.

The seas were too rough and the winds too strong Friday to burn off the oil, suck it up effectively with skimmer vessels, or hold it in check with the miles of orange and yellow inflatable booms strung along the coast.

The spill — a slick more than 130 miles long and 70 miles wide — threatens hundreds of species of wildlife.

High seas were in the forecast through Sunday and could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds, creeks and lakes that line the boot of southeastern Louisiana. With the wind blowing from the south, the mess could reach the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts by Monday.

An expert who oversaw the assessment of damage from the Exxon Valdez disaster, Jeffrey Short, said that Florida officials should concentrate more on protecting the state's marshes and mangroves than on blocking the oil from the beaches.

"As obnoxious and awful as it is having tarballs on your beach, it's considerably better than having it in coastal wetlands," said Short, a scientist who formerly worked for NOAA. "If it hits a sandy beach, you can just pick it up and carry it off."

But it's so hard to clean the oil out of marshes and mangroves, he said, that "you want to move heaven and earth to keep it out of there."

Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report, which contains information from Associated Press and the New York Times.

The latest on the spill

. Federal involvement continued to expand, with the Justice Department joining the list of Cabinet offices on the scene, raising the possibility of a criminal investigation.

. With 210,000 gallons of oil a day spewing from the blown-out well at the site of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, if conditions don't change quickly, devastation of the highest magnitude is headed for somewhere along the coast, experts said.

Inside

. Checking Rush Limbaugh's statement. PolitiFact, 4A

. A diagram on stopping the leak. 10A

. BP's "green" image takes a beating. Business, 6B

Coming Sunday

Looking at state businesses threatened by the spill. Business

Other problems at the rig

Before last week's catastrophe, Deepwater Horizon's most recent "significant pollution incident" occurred in November 2005, when the rig spilled 212 barrels of an oil-based lubricant due to equipment failure and human error. That spill was probably caused by not screwing the pipe tightly enough and not adequately sealing the well with cement, as well as a possible poor alignment of the rig, according to records maintained by the federal Minerals Management Service.

. In February 2002, just months after the rig was launched from a South Korean shipyard, it spilled 267 barrels of oil into the gulf after a hose failed, according to records maintained by the Minerals Management Service.

. In June 2003, the rig floated off course in high seas, resulting in the release of 944 barrels of oil. MMS blamed bad weather and poor judgment by the captain. A month later, equipment failure and high currents led to the loss of 74 barrels of oil.

. In January 2005, human error caused another accident. A crane operator forgot he was in the midst of refueling a crane, and 15 gallons of overflowing diesel fuel sparked a fire.

The Coast Guard, which is supposed to ensure the vessels are seaworthy, keeps its own set of safety records on the Deepwater Horizon.

From 2000 to 2010, the Coast Guard issued six enforcement warnings and handed down one civil penalty and a notice of violation to Deepwater Horizon.

On 18 different occasions during that period the Coast Guard cited the vessel for an "acknowledged pollution source." No further details about the type of pollution were immediately available.

Officials assail BP for response to oil spill 05/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 12:29am]

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