May 21, 2010 9:39 AM by Bea Karnes, News First 5
Thick, sticky oil crept deeper into delicate marshes of the Mississippi Delta Friday, an arrival dreaded for a month since the crude started spewing into the Gulf, as anger and frustration mounted over efforts to plug the gusher from a blown-out well and contain the spill.
Up to now, only tar balls and a sheen of oil had come ashore. But chocolate brown and vivid orange globs and sheets of foul-smelling oil the consistency of latex paint have begun coating the reeds and grasses of Louisiana's wetlands, home to rare birds, mammals and a rich variety of marine life.
With each passing day, outrage grows. State and local officials say the federal government isn't doing enough. President Barack Obama faults the agency that oversees offshore drilling. Republicans say the Coast Guard and the administration should have done more.
Most of all, fingers are pointing at oil giant BP, not only for the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the deaths of 11 workers, but for the gusher of oil that flowed entirely uncontained until this past weekend. The company, which was leasing the rig, conceded Thursday what some scientists have been saying for weeks: More oil is flowing from the leak than BP and the Coast Guard had previously estimated.
The BP executive in charge of fighting the spill, Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, said he understands the public frustration. He said Friday that in the worst case scenario, the gusher could continue until early August, when a new well being drilled to cap the flow permanently could be finished.
But Suttles said he believes the rich Gulf environment will recover, in part because it is a large body of water and has withstood other oil spills.
"I'm optimistic, I'm very optimistic that the Gulf will fully recover," Suttles said.
At least 6 million gallons have gushed into the Gulf since the explosion, more than half of what the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled in Alaska in 1989. A growing number of scientists believe it's more.
BP spokesman Mark Proegler said that the mile-long tube inserted into a leaking pipe over the weekend is capturing 210,000 gallons of oil a day - the total amount the company and the Coast Guard have estimated is gushing into the sea - but some is still escaping. He would not say how much.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a team including scientists is working on a new estimate of how much oil is gushing from the well. Agency officials would not speculate on how big the leak might be.
Washington, meanwhile, has turned up the pressure on BP.
The Obama administration asked the company to be more open with the public by sharing such information as measurements of the leak and the trajectory of the spill. BP has been accused of covering up the magnitude of the disaster.
Also, the Environmental Protection Agency directed BP to employ a less toxic form of the chemical dispersants it has been using to break up the oil and keep it from reaching the surface.
BP is marshaling equipment for an attempt as early as Sunday at a "top kill," which involves pumping heavy mud into the top of the blown-out well to try to plug the gusher.