President Barack Obama visited oil spill stricken Louisiana Friday, telling coastal residents “you will not be abandoned,” even as BP said it could take all weekend to complete its “top kill” technique aimed at plugging the catastrophic leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I’m here to tell you that you are not alone,” the president said in afternoon remarks outside a Coast Guard station in Grand Isle, La., Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the governors of Alabama and Louisiana at his side.
“You will not be abandoned, you will not be left behind,” Obama said. “The media may get tired of the story; but we will not. We are on your side and we will see this through.”
Also Friday, the federal government proactively prohibited fishing in an even wider swath — now covering 25 percent — of the Gulf of Mexico to safeguard seafood.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced the closure in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration, which said they would soon implement a “broad-scaled seafood sampling plan” to include testing seafood in the gulf as well as dockside and in markets.
NOAA posted a map of the closure area: http://bit.ly/9Znznq.
Still there was scant word from BP about whether its top kill technique was working in its third day, or even whether the mud-pumping procedure was under way. An oil executive and Coast Guard official were slated to brief at about 6 p.m. East Coast time.
Meantime, the oil giant issued the extended timetable for the top kill technique in a midmorning update that declared, “ultimate success is uncertain.”
“Operations on the top kill procedure continue,” it said. “It is estimated that the full top kill procedure could extend for another 24 to 48 hours. If the well were successfully ‘killed,’ it is expected that cementing operations would then follow.”
Soon after, the president traveled to Port Fourchon, La., spotted some dolphin off shore and picked up a tar ball off the white-sand beach, which was arrayed with newly laid colorful boom.
“Obviously there’s precious wildlife in this area even though you see a whole bunch of oil rigs in the background,” Obama said. “You’ve got about seven miles here where boom has been laid.”
The president traveled from a Memorial Day weekend stay in Chicago and got the personal tour from Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal incident response commander, who showed him the protective boom measures.
“They’re using modern technology,” Allen told the president, near new colorful boom replaced along the shore a day earlier to trap the tar.
Allen credited local, state and federal collaboration with seeking to protect the environment, among them shrimp boats on standby to deploy boom.
The president’s motorcade took him past a hand-painted plywood sign declaring “Beach Closed” and beachfront cottages on pilings, many with their hurricane shutters closed.
Obama also visited the Coast Guard Station in Grand Isle with Crist, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley — states whose coastal tourism and fishing industry could be harmed by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon disaster, now considered the worst spill in U.S. history.
Still, Obama emphasized that only three beaches in the tri-state region were closed due to the spill and urged tourists to keep on coming.
“One of the powerful ways that you can help the Gulf right now is to visit the communities and the beaches off of the coast. Except for three beaches here in Louisiana, all of the Gulf’s beaches at this moment are open, they are safe and they are clean,” he said.
New government figures released Thursday estimated the leak had so far spewed 18.6 million to 29 million gallons into the Gulf.
Obama had cautioned during a White House news conference on Thursday that there were no guarantees of success for the top kill technique. “I take responsibility” for its handling, he also said.
The top kill procedure has never before been attempted at these depths. BP noted that should it fail, engineers were preparing an alternative plan.
BP began pumping the mud into the breach of the well on Wednesday afternoon and discontinued it after delivering some 15,000 barrels of the substances across about 10 hours. Chief operating officer Doug Suttles announced Thursday evening that the technique had succeeded in slowing the release of oil and gas and would resume Thursday night.
By midday Friday, BP spokesmen were unable to say whether the mud pumping procedure was still under way. “All I can tell you is the operation is continuing,” said BP’s Graham MacEwan.
In Washington, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar named Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey acting director of the Minerals Management Service.
Elizabeth Birnbaum, the Obama administration’s director of 11 months, resigned this week amid unrelenting criticism of the federal government’s lax oversight of BP and the rest of the offshore oil industry.
Also Friday, a consortium of environmental groups, among them the Florida Wildlife Federation, filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request for data about the chemical dispersants being used to break up the Gulf oil leak at the seabed.