Oil leak an 'environmental crime'

19:52, Jun 03 2010
Help written on beach
OIL SPILL: The word Help is written in the sand on the beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama as workers battle to stop thousands of gallons of oil from a spill from hitting beaches.
Gulf oil spill
OIL SPILL: Workers gather stormwater runoff and decayed organic matter on the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Gulf oil spill
GULF OIL SLICK: The crew of a Basler BT-67 fixed wing aircraft release oil dispersant over an oil discharge from the mobile offshore drilling unit, Deepwater Horizon, off the shore of Louisiana.
Gulf oil spill
OIL SLICK: A band of oil from the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana floats in the water near Freemason Island.
Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill
An oil soaked bird struggles against the side of the HOS an Iron Horse supply vessel at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Oil spill
OIL SPILL: Oil is seen on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in an aerial view of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Mobile, Alabama.
Oil from the Gulf
OIL SLICK: A man holds a plastic bag with oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill south of Freemason Island, Louisiana.
Protesters
OIL SPILL: Demonstrators hold placards during a rally in New Orleans to demand the cleaning of coasts as oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead continues to spread in the Gulf of Mexico.
Protective wall
OIL SPILL: A wall constructed to protect the northern shore of Dauphin Island, from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is shown in this aerial photograph.
Oil in waves
OIL SLICK: Thick black waves of oil and brown whitecaps are seen off the side of the supply vessel Joe Griffin at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill containment efforts.
Oil-stained bird
OIL STAINED: A cattle egret stained by oil rests on the deck of the supply vessel Joe Griffin, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.
Oil
Greenpeace senior campaigner Lindsey Allen walks through a patch of oil from the Deepwater Horizon on the breakwater in the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Oil2
Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 15 miles northwest of site of the BP oil spill.
Oil3
Dispersed oil floats on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico waters close to the site of the BP oil spill.
Oil4
Oil drips from the rubber gloves of Greenpeace Marine Biologist Paul Horsman.
Oil5
Gas from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead is burned by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise.
Oil6
Greenpeace marine biologist Paul Horsman surveys oil pooled between reeds and brush.
Oil7
Veterinarians working for US Fish and Wildlife Services bathe a brown pelican at Fort Jackson Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Oil spill
OIL SPILL: A worker shovels oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon.
Oil spill
GULF OIL SPILL: Oil fouls the water near nesting pelicans on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana.
Pelican covered in oil
PELICAN COVERED IN OIL: An oiled bird on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana.
Oil spill
CONTAMINATION: CNN reporter Anderson Cooper lays down on the bow of an air boat to take a picture as Governor Bobby Jindal, right, removes a fishing net from the oil contaminated water in Pass A Loutre near Venice, Louisiana.
Oil spill
OIL SLICK: Workers clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Pass a Loutre, Louisiana.
Oil spill in perspective
From a www.beowulfe.com program using Google maps to provide local perspective on the impact of the Gulf oil spill.
BP oil spill
A Nasa satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico shows the extent of the oil released from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
BP oil spill
BP CEO Hayward takes a first hand look at the recovery operations aboard the Discover Enterprise drill ship in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP oil spill
US President Obama walks along the Louisiana coastline while touring damage caused by oil spill.
Oiled pelican
SPILL VICTIM: A brown pelican covered in oil sits on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast.
Oiled bird
OILED: A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast.
Pelican
GULF PELICAN: A brown pelican is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon has affected wildlife throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil bird
A Pelican sits on the beach covered in oil at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast.
Pelicans
SPILL VICTIMS: Brown Pelicans, covered in oil from BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, huddle together in a cage at the International Bird Rescue Research Centre in Buras, Louisiana.
Pelican sits in oil
OIL VICTIM: An exhausted oil-covered brown pelican sits in a pool of oil along Queen Bess Island Pelican Rookery, 4.8km northeast of Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Gulf oil spill
UNDERWATER VANTAGE: patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from underwater.
Gulf spill
UNDERWATER OIL: Patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from an underwater vantage.
Gulf spill
OIL SPILL: Patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from an underwater vantage.
Journalist Rich Matthews
UNDER THE SEA: AP journalist Rich Matthews takes a closer look at oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil
OIL EVERYWHERE: Rich Matthews takes a closer look at oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
oIL
EFFECTS: Marine reef ecologist Scott Porter holds barnacle samples he removed from an oil rig in waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Porter plans to determine the effect of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
sPILL
Marine reef ecologist Scott Porter works to remove oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill off his hands.
Oil in bottles
GULF SPILL: Oil-tainted water from the Gulf of Mexico sits in jars placed before a group of business people and officials called Gulf Voices as they speak of their plight during a visit to Capitol Hill in Washington.
Oil spill
GULF SPILL: Crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washes ashore in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Oil spill
GULF SPILL: Gas and oil continue to leak at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico, in this image captured from a BP live video feed.
Gulf oil spill
OIL SPILL: The Taiwanese skimmer dubbed "A Whale", left, conducts a test of its oil skimming capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response.
Young heron
YOUNG HERON: Young herons impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are seen at the Fort Jackson Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
BP STICKS AT IT: Work continues at the site of the BP oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP STICKS AT IT: Work continues at the site of the BP oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
oiled heron
OIL VICTIM: A seriously oiled tri-coloured heron is spotted on Queen Bess Island near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

US lawmakers and local residents clamored on Sunday for BP and the Obama administration to do more to save the Gulf Coast from an out-of-control oil spill that has become the biggest environmental catastrophe in the country's history.

Lawmakers from US President Barack Obama's own Democratic Party called the nearly six-week oil gush in the Gulf of Mexico an "environmental crime" and demanded $1 billion from BP to protect the region's treasured marshlands.

The failure on Saturday of a "top kill" technique attempted by London-based BP to try to seal its leaking Gulf well has unleashed a surge of anger that poses a major domestic challenge to Obama and his party in an election year.

"This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we have ever faced in this country," White House adviser Carol Browner told NBC's "Meet the Press."

The Gulf spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989 as the worst US oil spill, with an estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels (1.9 million to 3 million liters) leaking per day.

Given the enormity of the disaster, critics say Obama was too slow to respond.

"I hold Obama responsible for not making BP stand up and look at the people in the face and fix it," said Dean Blanchard, owner of a seafood business, who spoke at a protest rally in New Orleans on Sunday.

"It's not right what is going on, I didn't do nothing wrong, I didn't deserve this," he told the hundreds of protesters, some of whom carried signs, such as "Seize BP."

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, the target of ire over his company's failures to stop the spill and protect vital wetlands, apologized to Gulf Coast residents.

"The first thing is to say we're sorry, we're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused their lives, there's no one who wants this thing over more than I do," Hayward said as he visited the fishing hub of Venice on Sunday.

Hayward had predicted that despite risks, the top kill had a 60 to 70 percent chance of success. He said he did not know why it failed to stop the gusher.

The next BP step would involve undersea robots using diamond-rimmed saws to cut off a pipe over the well to put in place a containment device that would try to siphon off most of the leaking oil and gas up to a tanker ship on the surface.

It has never been attempted at the depth of the BP well, 1.6km under water.

Even Hayward conceded on Sunday that "there's no doubt that the ultimate solution is the relief well, which is in August."

The possibility of another two months to a definitive solution could spell more financial trouble for BP, whose market value has dropped by 25 percent since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers, and triggering the spill.

Obama, who has called the spill a "man-made disaster," has relied on BP and its deep-sea technology to try to stop the leak, although he has made clear the government is in charge.

Critics argue, however, that he has not directed enough resources to the unfolding disaster and he has not been present enough.

The White House said on Sunday that the government will triple clean-up resources in areas affected by the spill, while the administration's top energy and environment officials head back to the Gulf this week following Obama's second visit on Friday.

BP and the entire US oil industry face more probing questions about why safety backups did not accompany their pursuit of oil in ever deeper offshore waters.

"I think without question if the word criminal should be used in terms of an environmental crime against our country, that what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico is going to qualify," US Democratic Representative Ed Markey told CBS' "Face the Nation."

Department of Justice officials are part of an ongoing federal investigation into the rig explosion and the Obama administration has not ruled out the possibility of a criminal prosecution.

In Louisiana, which has borne the brunt of the oil spill impact so far, authorities demanded that BP and the federal government rush a plan to create a sand barrier to the oil by dredging and building up outlying sandbanks and islets.

"I'm devastated ... We are dying a slow death, every time that oil takes out a piece of the marsh, a piece of Louisiana is gone forever," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, told CNN.

Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu called on BP to immediately invest $1 ($NZ1.47) billion to protect marshes, wetlands and estuaries across the region. "While we may not be able to plug the leaking well right away, there is nothing that should stop us from getting help to the Gulf Coast immediately," she said.

Gulf residents fear the oil slick could be whipped further inshore by what forecasters predict will be the most active Atlantic storm season since 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina.

That deadly storm proved a political disaster for President George W. Bush, who was accused of complacency in handling it, and Obama is fighting to prevent the Gulf spill from becoming his own "Katrina" ahead of the November congressional elections.

At the New Orleans protest, Jennifer Jones said Louisianians still recovering from Katrina's devastation are frustrated by the response thus far.

"We need the help again, continuing from Katrina, this is like Part Two," Jones said.

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Reuters