Obama vows help as BP sees oil spill progress

Louisiana, June 5, 2010 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama promised Saturday to use "every resource" to help oil spill-stricken Gulf of Mexico residents recover from the worst environmental disaster in US history.

The pledge came as energy giant BP offered the first indications that a cap placed over a ruptured undersea well would finally bring the catastrophe under control, more than six weeks after the leak started.

AFP/Getty Images – A laughing gull coated in heavy oil wallows in the surf on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana.

"So we will continue to leverage every resource at our disposal to protect coastlines, to clean up the oil, to hold BP and other companies accountable for damages," Obama said in his weekly radio address.

In remarks broadcast from Grand Isle, a Louisiana coastal community bearing the brunt of the spill, he also promised to do all he could to "to begin to restore the bounty and beauty of this region -- and to aid the hardworking people of the Gulf as they rebuild their businesses and communities."

An estimated 20 million gallons of crude has poured into the Gulf since an April 20 explosion tore through the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Louisiana.

Eleven workers were killed in the blast, and Obama, who toured the disaster area Friday, will meet their families in a White House ceremony next week.

The president said the spill had "upended whole communities," and local residents were angry not just about the money they had lost, but because of "the wrenching recognition that this time their lives may never be the same."

The scale of the disaster has forced the president to postpone a trip to Australia and Indonesia for the second time.

Shocking images of pelicans and seabirds writhing in oil along the Louisiana coast broadcast on US television networks and splashed on the front pages of newspapers underscored the rising environmental costs.

Spreading in oily ribbons, the slick is now threatening Alabama, Mississippi and Florida after contaminating more than 125 miles (200 kilometers) of Louisiana coastline.

But Obama said the cap that BP placed over the well late Thursday appeared to be "making progress" in trying to pump oil to the surface.

BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said the cap -- an upside-down, funnel-shaped container -- would capture the "vast majority" of the oil.

The official in charge of the US government response to the spill, Admiral Thad Allen, said the cap was collecting about 1,000 barrels a day of oil.

But that is far short of the 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day that have been spewing into the sea and a live video feed showed clouds of oil still gushing from the pipe.

Obama acknowledged that "regardless of the outcome of this attempt, there will still continue to be some spillage until the relief wells are completed."

He noted that his administration had ordered BP to pay economic injury claims and sent the company a preliminary bill for 69 million dollars to pay back some of the costs of the clean-up.

And he promised to do everything necessary to prevent such environmental disasters from happening again, adding: "If laws are inadequate - laws will be changed."

US authorities reopened a section of more than 16,000 square miles (41,000 square kilometers) of previously closed fishing area off the Florida coast, closed on June 2 as a precaution.

At the same time, BP chief executive Tony Hayward announced the formation of a team to work with locals and officials in the aftermath of the cleanup, led by one of the oil giant's managing directors, Bob Dudley, a US citizen.

The appointment is a sign that the cleanup and looming legal battles will likely last for years. The CEO has faced growing anger about a series of blunders.

BP said it will be sending a second advance payment during June to individuals and businesses along the Gulf Coast to compensate for the loss of income, bringing its total to 84 million dollars.

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