WASHINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ President Barack Obama and his top disaster official warned Monday of severe long-term economic and environmental damage from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and piled new pressure on BP over compensation payments.
The British energy giant meanwhile slowly upped production from the undersea containment cap fixed over the ruptured well which has spewed millions of barrels of oil, in the worst environmental calamity in US history.
“What is clear is that the economic impact of this disaster is going to be substantial, and it is going to be ongoing,” Obama said, as he met top officials waging a daily battle against the catastrophe.
“I want to repeat, I do not want to see BP nickel-and-diming these businesses that are having a very tough time,” Obama said, in the latest attempt to show his administration is on top of the crises.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the national disaster coordinator, called on BP to simplify the compensation claims process for Gulf of Mexico people and businesses that have seen livelihoods pulverized by the spill.
And he warned the environmental and ecological consequences of the massive oil slick, now separating and threatening multiple coastlines as it is filtered by ocean currents, would be long-term.
“Dealing with the oil spill on the surface will go on for a couple of months,” Allen said.
“Long-term issues of restoring environments and habitats and stuff will be years,” he said, as US television aired more heart-rending footage of sea birds coated in oily goop and shots of more oil coming ashore.
Allen said BP had succeeded in capturing 11,000 barrels of oil from the containment cap, a mile below the sea (1,600 meters) over the last 24 hours, and planned to soon boost production to 20,000 barrels.
But he said it was still unclear just how much oil was escaping the ruptured wellhead, and what proportion of the escaping crude was being captured.
“We have gone from 6,000 to 11,000” barrels a day, said Allen.
“We still haven’t established what the flow rate is. That is the big unknown that we’re trying to hone in and get the exact numbers on,” Allen said.
Two current government models put the estimated flow rate out of the well at between 12,000 and 25,000 barrels a day, meaning that so far only a portion of the oil is likely being captured.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs however said the operation using the containment cap inserted on the well last week,was fraught with difficulty.
“This is a delicate cap and we want to ramp this thing up so that this is a solution that we can work with for weeks and months and don’t do something too rapidly to cause something tragic to happen.”
BP hoped to move a second production platform into place soon to boost capacity of oil that could be siphoned off and produced soon, Allen said.
It was also preparing a bigger rig with the capacity to process more crude, which might also be able to stand heavier weather, with the US hurricane season gearing up.
BP said Monday it had spent at least 1.25 billion dollars on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as it continued its efforts to contain the leak, threatening other neighboring states, including the Florida beaches.
Obama, under rising political pressure over his handling of the spill, made his third visit to the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in April.
Despite the gloom over the disaster, he delivered an upbeat prediction on Monday that the benighted region, still struggling to recover from murderous Hurricane Katrina in 2005, would recover.
“This will be contained. It may take some time, and it’s going to take a whole lot of effort.
“But the one thing I’m absolutely confident about is that, as we have before, we will get through this crisis.
“This is a resilient ecosystem. These are resilient people, down on the Gulf Coast. They bounce back.”
The oil has already forced the closure of valuable fishing grounds, blighting the livelihoods of many residents.
And hundreds of birds have been picked up by wildlife rescue workers in coastal states — including Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.
Of the 820 birds found so far, 597 have been dead, and all 223 found alive have been visibly oiled, officials said. For the first time, oiled birds showed up in Texas.
So far, there have been no signs of the oil in southern Florida, but experts said the edges of massive oil plumes were reaching the Loop Current and even the Gulf Stream that could sweep the pollution by Florida and along the eastern US coast.
The slick has now spread around a 200-mile (320-kilometer) radius from the fractured wellhead, but has broken into smaller spills.