US outrage mounted against BP as the oil spill reached its two-month mark and an internal BP document showed as many as 100,000 barrels of oil could be gushing daily into the Gulf of Mexico.
The document showed the energy giant’s own worst-case scenario of the amount of leaking oil at possibly 20 times more than its early public estimates.
The latest round of recriminations came after a week of White House arm-twisting prodded BP to agree to a 20-billion-dollar fund to pay claims and a stepped up oil recovery effort in the Gulf.
Media reports of CEO Tony Hayward attending a yacht race off the Isle of Wight, the day after he stepped down from managing the oil leak on a daily basis, set off one of the sharpest expressions yet of administration anger with BP.
“Well, to quote Tony Hayward, he’s got his life back, as he would say,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, referencing the BP boss’s now-notorious slip.
“And I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR (public relations) consulting,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
“This has just been part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes.”
Emanuel then assailed BP for its response to the worst oil spill in US history, saying it had to be forced to do more, faster at every step since the April 20 explosion that ripped through the Deepwater Horizon rig it had leased, killing 11 workers.
Over the past week, the British energy giant has called in more ships and equipment to the area, announced it was ahead of schedule in drilling the relief wells — seen as the best chance at killing the well — and said it would significantly boost the amount of oil captured from its busted well.
But a key US congressman Ed Markey, a vocal critic of BP and its handling of the disaster, lit out at the firm after releasing an internal BP document that showed the energy giant’s own worst-case, saying the firm was “either lying or grossly incompetent.”
“First they said it was only 1,000 barrels, then they said it was 5,000 barrels, now we’re up to 100,000 barrels,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
US government estimates now put the leak at 30,000 to 65,000 barrels a day.
BP rejected Markey’s charge, noting that the conditions it had stated for the worst-case scenario to develop were not in place then, and are not in place now.
“It’s completely misrepresenting what we’re saying,” BP spokesman Robert Wine told AFP. “We were saying that if two conditions were met simultaneously — one that we got the modeling restrictions wrong and if the blowout preventer were removed — then we could have 100,000 barrels of oil.”
He said the estimate “has nothing with the amount of oil that’s actually escaping at the moment.”
BP also raced to defend Hayward’s vacation outing with his son in Britain, which a spokesman called his “first non-working day since this started.”
“Still, no matter where he is, he is always in touch with what is happening within BP,” another company spokesman John Curry said.
Asked about Hayward’s yacht outing, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “all of these guys could use a better PR advisor, but the point is we need to get the oil leak stopped and keep as much as the oil off the shore as we can.”
“Clearly, not enough is being done. All the local officials on the Gulf are frustrated as they can be,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, one of the four Gulf Coast states sullied by brownish tides of oily mixture thick as cake batter, called Hayward’s appearance at the yacht race “the height of arrogance.”
The controversy capped a nightmare week for BP, whose public image is in tatters after its shares slumped on the stock market, its credit worthiness was slashed and its top executives were hauled to the White House.
BP said it captured about 21,040 barrels of oil on Friday, slightly lower than in previous day after its main oil-collecting vessel had to be temporarily shut down to clean a flame arrester and wait out a lighting storm. Its current collection system can collect or burn up to about 25,000 barrels a day.
The spill has impacted 59 miles (95 kilometers) of Gulf Coast shoreline, mainly in Louisiana but also in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. More than one-third of federal waters in the Gulf are closed to fishing because of the spill.