WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Friday angrily decried the "ridiculous spectacle" of oil industry officials pointing fingers of blame for the catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico and pledged to end a "cozy relationship" between the oil industry and federal regulators that he said had extended into his own administration.
Obama said he shared the "anger and frustration" felt by many Americans, and he acknowledged differing estimates about just how disastrous the damage from the leak could become. He said the administration's response has "always been geared toward the possibility of a catastrophic event."
As Obama spoke in the White House Rose Garden, undersea robots in the Gulf tried to thread a small tube into the jagged pipe that is spewing oil into the water. The blown-out well has pumped out more than 4 million gallons of crude.
BP engineers were trying to move the 6-inch tube into the leaking 21-inch pipe, known as a riser. The smaller tube was to be surrounded by a stopper to keep oil from leaking into the sea. BP said it hoped to know by Friday evening if the tube succeeded in taking the oil to a tanker at the surface.
The Gulf spill is not only a potential environmental and economic catastrophe. It also is a major political challenge for Obama to demonstrate that his administration is doing everything it can to deal with the disaster. An AP-GfK poll this week found that to this point the spill hasn't stained Obama nor dimmed the public's desire for offshore energy drilling.
Although some conservative pundits have called this "Obama's Katrina," that's not how the public feels. Obama slammed BP and other companies responsible for equipment involved in the spill for pointing fingers at each other instead of accepting responsibility. But he said responsibility rests with the federal government, too, and that oil drilling permits had been granted without appropriate environmental reviews. "That cannot and will not happen anymore," Obama said.
He announced a new examination of the environmental reviews that must happen before oil and gas development goes forward. With millions of gallons of oil fouling the fragile Gulf ecosystem after a drilling rig exploded April 20 and later sank, Obama said: "It's pretty clear that the system failed and it failed badly."
Eleven workers were killed in the accident. There's "enough blame to go around and all parties should be willing to accept it," the president said. He said he would not be satisfied until the leak was stopped, the spill was cleaned up and all claims were paid.
This week executives from three oil companies - BP PLC, which was drilling the well, Transocean, which owned the rig, and Halliburton, which was doing cement work to cap the well - testified on Capitol Hill, each trying to blame the other for what may have caused the disaster.
Obama decried that scene. "I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter. You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else," the president said. "The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn't."
Obama: Feds ready for catastrophic Gulf oil spill
President Barack Obama says it's unclear how much oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, but the government is prepared to handle a potentially "catastrophic event."
Obama said Friday that no one knows exactly how much oil is leaking because human inspectors cannot reach the mile-deep well head. He said he would not rest until the leak is stopped, the oil is contained and cleaned up, and people of the Gulf region resume normal lives.
Obama spoke in the Rose Garden after discussing the oil spill with Cabinet members.