Wednesday, June 16, 2010
President Obama met with BP executives at the White House on Wednesday, a day after he excoriated the petroleum giant in a prime-time address, pledging to make the company pay for the environmental and economic catastrophe caused by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Top BP officials, including CEO Tony Hayward, arrived for the session at the White House on Wednesday morning. The meeting is Obama's first face-to-face encounter with the executives since one of their oil wells blew out off the Louisiana coast nearly 60 days ago, killing 11 workers and releasing a so-far unstoppable geyser of oil.
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod said the meeting was aimed at ensuring that Gulf Coast businesses and individuals will be fully compensated for their economic losses.
Axelrod, speaking on CBS's Early Show, said the key is that the escrow account the administration has pushed for must be under independent control. During his Oval Office address Tuesday, the president said he would tell the BP chairman to set aside whatever resources are required.
The cost of such a compensation fund would be enormous. While the White House insists it has the legal authority to make it happen, it still has details about the nature and the size of the fund to iron out.
BP declined to offer details about what proposals it would bring to the meeting or any reaction to Obama's biting words.
The company said in a statement that it shares Obama's goal of "shutting off the well as quickly as possible, cleaning up the oil and mitigating the impact on the people and environment of the Gulf Coast. We look forward to meeting with President Obama tomorrow for a constructive discussion about how to best achieve these mutual goals."
Obama planned a Rose Garden statement after the meeting. He was to attend a portion of the BP session while his aides handle the rest.
On Tuesday, the president was blunt about the administration's position, declaring in his first Oval Office address that "we will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused," and describing the catastrophe as a "siege" on the shores of America.
The White House once had described BP as an essential partner in plugging the crude oil spewing from the broken well beneath nearly a mile of water. Now the president's tone has shifted, and he has said BP threatens to destroy a whole way of life.
"I refuse to let that happen," Obama said in his televised address.
Meanwhile, a team of U.S. scientists has increased its high-end estimate of the amount of crude oil flowing from the BP well by 50 percent, to a range of 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day. That estimate is in line with one made by independent scientists and first reported by NPR more than a month ago. BP, which had said for weeks that the flow rate was about 5,000 barrels a day, later acknowledged the figure was low, but the company has nonetheless declined to provide an updated estimate.
The government scientists say the total spilled so far could be as much as 116 million gallons.
BP also said Wednesday it has a second system in place to collect oil from the blown-out well.
The new system, already in place, has the capacity to draw up and burn about 10,000 barrels a day, though it is still ramping up to that level. It reuses seabed equipment installed in May for BP's failed "top kill" effort to smother and plug the leak, the company said.
Combined with the existing oil collection system, BP should be able to gather up about 25,000 barrels a day.