WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama is under more pressure regarding his administration's actions to deal with the month-long Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Much of Thursday's briefing by the president's spokesman was taken up with questions about the scope of the disaster and the response by BP.
With oil still spewing from the well some 1,500 meters under where the Deepwater Horizon rig once stood, the Obama administration continues to defend the measures it is taking in overseeing cleanup operations, and the pressure it is placing on BP.
Just as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was beginning his briefing, U.S. television networks aired new video from BP, including a live feed from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, showing significant continuing flows.
Reporters pressed Gibbs, who weeks ago said the government intended to pressure BP to take action and investigate how forthcoming BP has been amid intense public and media demands for more information about the disaster and the clean up costs. "They are responsible. They will get the bill; the taxpayers won't. And it is being overseen by many elements of the federal government," he said.
Earlier, a BP spokesman said a long tube inserted into the leak is capturing about 800,000 liters of oil per day, an indication that the leak is much larger than previously estimated. But BP has been siphoning oil from only one of two leaks.
On Capitol Hill, Massachusetts Democratic Representative Ed Markey referred to the underwater video of the leak and criticized BP, asserting that its estimate of leaking oil was far below the actual rate. "The 5,000 barrels [of oil] a day estimate that BP pushed all along, is dead wrong," he said.
Amid fears of widespread environmental damage, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to use a less toxic form of chemical dispersants to help break up the oil.
Heavy oil is now washing ashore in delicate marshland areas of Louisiana. White House spokesman Gibbs said government officials are trying to determine how much oil is entering the Loop Current, which could carry it toward Florida and the Atlantic Ocean.
California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer asserted that BP efforts are not working and said the company was attempting to cover up the size of the spill.
Calling the notion of any coverup "ridiculous," Gibbs had this response when asked about efforts to deal with what he called a "catastrophic event": "You're talking about an incident that is 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea, for a well that is an additional four miles below that one mile surface [distance]," he said.
Amid escalating anger in Congress, Senator Boxer and fellow Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida referred to estimates by scientists that as much as 11 million liters of oil are leaking from the Gulf of Mexico each day.