Brown gooey oil slopped into the Perdido Pass and an oil sheen burst through a boom system protecting the Pensacola Pass on Thursday, the first confirmed invasion of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster into Florida's fragile inland waterways.
Oil could be plainly seen on the Alabama side of the Perdido Pass. And in Escambia County the incoming overnight tide left oil intermixed with sargassum grass in the first major intracoastal of Florida at Pensacola Pass, said spokeswoman Sonya Daniel.
"I'm watching the oil come in, I've seen it on the beach. It's in the seaweed. I cry," said Dorothy King, 65. "For the animals, for the rest of my life it won't be the same," added King, who splits her time between homes in Perdido Key and Pensacola. "I'm mad at BP."
The county deployed booms to protect 17 separate individual inlets from bayous and coves where the seagrass is especially sensitive. Perdido Pass is the gateway to the first waterways straddling the Alabama-Florida border.
Escambia County placed signs on 6 miles of beach between the Alabama state line and the Gulf Islands Seashore National Park, warning beachgoers not to swim or fish in the oiled waters.
Tar balls and mousse, a brown pudding-like substance, have been appearing on some Pensacola beaches with the tides for days.
BP works on next plan to capture crude
BP said Thursday that it plans to boost its ability to directly capture hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil gushing by early next week.
Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president of exploration and production, said a semi-submersible drilling rig would capture and burn about 420,000 gallons of oil daily. Once on board, the oil and gas collected from the well would be sent down a boom and burned at sea.
A drill ship already at the scene can process a maximum of 756,000 gallons of oil daily that's sucked up through a containment cap sitting on the well head.
Oil and gas siphoned from the well will flow up the rig, where it will be sent down a boom, turned into a mist and ignited using a burner. BP opted to burn the oil because storing it would require bringing in even more vessels to the already crowded seas above the leaking well.
Crews working at the site toiled under oppressive conditions as the heat index soared to 110 degrees and toxic vapors emanated from the depths. Fireboats were on hand to pour water on the surface to ease the fumes.
In Britain, the oil giant has many backers
BP may be Public Enemy No. 1 in the United States. But in Britain, where the company is a mainstay of the stock market and a favorite of pension funds, investors and politicians are becoming increasingly angry at the blistering attacks from across the Atlantic.
BP's share price, even after recovering some ground in New York trading Thursday, has fallen more than 40 percent since the environmental catastrophe in April, and some analysts say the crisis could lead to the takeover or even the bankruptcy of one of Britain's most valuable and iconic companies.
In that atmosphere, the stream of condemnations from Washington has stirred a protective backlash, even in this closest of U.S. allies. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said Thursday that he was worried about "anti-British rhetoric" and "name-calling" from American politicians.
BP is the third largest oil company in the world, after Exxon/Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, with 80,000 employees as of December, sales of $239 billion in 2009 and a market value — even after the recent losses — of more than $100 billion. Its generous dividends have long made it a favorite of British pension funds.
Obama meets with rig workers' families
President Barack Obama on Thursday met with relatives of the 11 workers killed in the gulf oil spill disaster, acknowledging their "unimaginable grief" and personally assuring the families that he will stand with them.
One man who lost a son asked Obama to support efforts to update federal law limiting the amount of money the families can collect.
"He told us we weren't going to be forgotten," said Keith Jones of Baton Rouge, La.
Jones' 28-year-old son, Gordon, was working on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP when it exploded April 20.
The younger Jones, a mud engineer, left behind a wife, Michelle, and two sons, a 2-year-old and one born just a month ago.
Obama was joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, White House energy adviser Carol Browner, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the crisis for the government.
Jones is among four families that have sued Transocean, the rig's owner, as well as BP and other companies involved in its operation. The cases seek unspecified damages and are pending in federal courts in Houston and New Orleans.
President will head to Pensacola on Monday
President Barack Obama will visit Pensacola on Monday, part of his latest visit to the gulf region. He will also visit Gulfport, Miss., and Theodore, Ala., in a two-day trip.
The president will meet with local official and survey response efforts. "We want people to know that we are doing everything that we can and we will look at any idea anybody has," said Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Browner says the goal is to make sure that the beaches and environment are not only cleaned up, but also restored.
Despite recent criticism, Browner reaffirmed that the president is "in charge."
Times staff writer Alex Holt contributed to this report, which contains information from the Associated Press, Miami Herald and New York Times.