Special Reports

BP ‘absolutely responsible’ for stopping leak

VENICE, La. — The giant British oil company BP LLC, whose deep-water well is gushing thousands of gallons of oil daily into the Gulf of Mexico, said Monday that it was “absolutely responsible” for stopping the leak, cleaning up the oil on the water’s surface and any resulting environmental damage.

“This is not our accident, but it’s our responsibility,” BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, said in a round of news media appearances. “And where there are legitimate claims for business interruption, we will make them good.”

The oil spill, which occurred at a well 50 miles off shore and a mile beneath the surface, continued to cover a massive area of the Gulf, threatening coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where work crews had fanned out to install barricades.

But a change in wind direction Monday appeared to be keeping the slick off shore, and winds were expected to continue blowing out to sea least through today.

Meanwhile, in a sign of eroding political support for off-shore drilling, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger withdrew his support Monday for a plan to allow new wells to be drilled from an existing platform off the coast of Santa Barbara.

The governor had been a proponent of the Tranquillon Ridge project, which could generate $140 million to help prevent cutbacks in the state parks budget. Despite the governor’s support, the project stalled amid opposition from lawmakers and the state Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction over such oil leases.

“You turn on television and you see this enormous disaster. You say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take that risk?” Schwarzenegger said Monday. “So the risk is just much greater than the money is worth.”

Supporters of the project, including Santa Barbara environmental groups, said they were disappointed with Schwarzenegger’s announcement, which throws the plan into limbo.

In the Gulf, BP took pains Monday to highlight the furious efforts it was making to stop the leak and battle the oil pouring into the ocean at the rate of at least 200,000 gallons a day.

Hayward said the company had deployed “an enormous operation on the surface to contain” the spill. Among those efforts was the use of cargo planes, to spray a chemical dispersants on the oil slick. Poor weather grounded some planes Monday, however.

Underwater, BP was using robotic submersibles to apply more dispersant, an operation that Hayward said “appear(s) to be having a significant impact.”

Crews worked late into the night Monday to install a shutoff valve on a piece of broken pipe about 800 feet from the well head. If successful the fix would only stop the flow from one of three leaks; the wellhead leak remains the most serious, however.

Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said that construction on a multi-story steel containment system designed to drop over the main leak could be completed as early as today.

The system, which has never been used at this depth, would collect the oil and pipe it to a collection ship on the surface. Suttles said he hoped to have it “up and operating within a week.”

BP also began drilling a relief well late Sunday. That well will bore 18,000 feet below the seabed and eventually intersect with the well causing the blowout. Then, drilling fluid will be injected into the well in hopes of stopping the flow of oil and gas to the surface. That process will likely take up to two months to complete.

Hayward made a distinction between his company’s responsibility and that of Transocean Ltd., which operated the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded and sank April 20, triggering the spill. BP leased the rig and had contracted with Transocean to drill the well.

“It was their rig and their equipment that failed, run by their people with their processes,” Hayward said. “But our responsibility is the oil, and the responsibility is ours to clean it up. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Transocean, the world’s biggest deepwater driller and operator of about 140 rigs, responded with a statement, saying it would “await all the facts before drawing conclusions.”

BP, which is self-insured, faces mounting costs for the cleanup.