PENSACOLA — Oil giant BP will deploy a second containment system by mid-June to capture more crude gushing from the undersea blowout, federal officials said Monday, as President Obama continued to take a tough stance against the petroleum company, saying he wants claims settled quickly.
“The economic impact of this disaster is going to be substantial and it is going to be ongoing,” President Obama said at a cabinet meeting to address the containment efforts. “I do not want to see BP nickel and diming these businesses that are having a tough time.”
While the Small Business Administration is providing bridge loans to fishermen and other businesses affected by the spill, “What we also need is BP being quick and responsive to the needs of these local communities,” the president said. “We are going to insist that money flows quickly on a timely basis.”
In a move expected to increase the recovery of oil spilling from the broken well.
5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf, federal officials said BP will use the hoses and manifold from the earlier, failed “top kill’’ operation to siphon oil and gas from the blowout preventer to a ship on the surface.
A separate ship currently stationed over the well and siphoning oil through a containment cap is capturing about 11,000 barrels a day, said U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen, the government’s point man on the recovery effort.
The two containment systems are projected to capture about 20,000 barrels of oil a day, Allen said.
Yet as the amount of oil captured from the underwater well increases, the fight to recover oil on the surface and elsewhere has grown more complex.
Allen said that response teams are no longer battling one monolithic spill but ‘‘hundreds of thousands of patches of oil going in lots of different directions.”
He added that no one knows exactly how much oil is gushing daily from the busted undersea well, but more privately owned boats are responding to the recovery effort —helping to skim oil from the surface and to lay booms designed to capture the crude before it reaches shore.
An estimated 1,500 boats have been deployed along the shores of the four states most threatened by the spill: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. The marshlands of Louisiana are particularly threatened, Allen said, noting that once oil reaches marshy shores it can spread farther inland than if touching down on a sandy beach.
And even as more boats lay more boom near the coastlines, Allen warned that the booms are “not a silver bullet.”
Despite miles of boom laid around Dauphin Island off Alabama’s coast, he said, the creeping crude still breached the barrier.
“No matter how much boom we have out there,” he said, “we will still have an aggregation of oil coming ashore from time to time.”
In Pensacola Beach Monday morning, fewer tar balls appeared to have washed ashore than in previous days since the sticky globs began dotting the sand Friday.
That may be a fortuitous break, as forecasted stormy weather threatened to get in the way of cleanup and monitoring efforts scheduled for Monday, Escambia County officials said.
The county opened emergency operations field offices Monday to give staff and BP cleanup crews a place to work closer to the beach.
In a visit to the emergency operations center, Florida Attorney General Bill
McCollum, a Republican running for governor, questioned why the coast off Mobile is getting “triple boom’’ and the Panhandle is not.
“We should at least be treated the same way as Alabama is being treated,” he said.
Escambia is triple booming some areas in inland waters, though even three layers may not be effective, county officials warned.
McCollum also asked a state BP liaison about getting more oil-skimming boats. BP executive Doug Suttles has committed to sending 20 in one or two weeks, said Ben Ziker, the state liaison.
“Why don’t we have them here now?” McCollum asked, saying he has heard 300 skimmers are available across the country and not in the Gulf.
In a subsequent news conference, McCollum held up a glass jar full of tar from the beach and said he was “appalled’’ that local officials have little decision-making power because they have to go through a federal, unified command center in Mobile.
Added U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican: “County commissioners are being hamstrung right now because they don’t have the resources.”
Federal officials have said resources to contain the spill were first sent to places like Louisiana that were going to feel the brunt of the spill early.
A light oil sheen continued to hover three to four miles from shore. The sheen was moving east of Pensacola along the Panhandle.
A Florida Department of Environmental Protection forecast issued Monday said that a rare June cold front was expected to temporarily halt the oil from moving northward, but that shifting ocean currents might still push crude towards the state.
Winds are expected to resume from the south Tuesday and continue through the end of the week.
NOAA trajectories indicate tarballs and light sheen may affect the beaches of the
Florida Panhandle through Wednesday, with direct impacts most likely remaining west of Choctawhatchee Bay.
In Destin, dime-sized tar balls washed ashore on Okaloosa Island for the second day in a row, but only about a dozen of the reddish-gray pieces were found in the powdery white sand.
“It’s all been a very manageable amount,” said Dino Villani, public safety director for Okaloosa County. “We’re very fortunate at this point.”
County officials are hoping that changes in wind direction, blowing in a northwest direction, will continue to keep the brunt of the tar balls and oil sheen off the area’s prized beaches.
“Thankfully, the winds have changed in our favor,” Villani said. “Until then, we’ll continue to coordinate the boom, patrol the beaches. This is going to continue to be our ongoing routine for sometime.”
Still, tourists and locals continued to swim, tan and play at the Gulf Coast beach on Monday.
At Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island, small tar balls reported in the morning had been cleaned up by the afternoon, and beach goers continued throwing themselves in the water.
“You just try your hardest not to think about what’s possibly out there and just take in this beautiful emerald water,” said Linda Nixon, a visitor from Tallahassee.
She watched as her two young grandchildren waded through the water with bright blue paddle boards.
“This is as close to paradise as it comes,” she said. “Hopefully, the winds will work in our favor and keep that mess away.”
Meanwhile in South Florida, federal officials established a sentry program to monitor the waters off the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas.
Under the program, ships and possibly aircraft will patrol state waters and provide an early-warning system and identify the threats so officials can respond accordingly.
A light sheen, for instance, will naturally dissipate, but so-called mousse mats and tar balls could potentially threaten the Florida Keys and the east coast of the state.
The first ship in the sentry program departed from John’s Pass, near St. Petersburg, on Sunday for a mission that will last four to 10 days.
There have been no reports of Deepwater Horizon-related oil reaching shore in the southern Florida area, and there is no indication of impacts in the near future, federal officials said.
Even as BP officials reported some success with a containment cap lowered over the busted well on June 3, government officials warned that the environmental catastrophe potentially will last for years.
Coast Guard Adm. Allen emphasized that the containment cap’s success does not represent an end to the spill.
That will only be achieved when the deep-water well is fully cemented shut, he said. That final closure can’t happen until the completion of a relief well that’s estimated to be completed in August.
Once the well is capped, oil spread throughout the Gulf will take months to clean.
“The long-term effects ... on the habitat and marshlands and the environment will take years’’ to address, he said.
To establish the amount of oil in the Gulf and the extent of damage, Allen said, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has dispatched a fleet of ships to conduct research.
NOAA ships are gathering water samples at various depths to account for oil below surface of the Gulf.
Allen added that the government, and not BP, is now in charge of measuring the amount of oil gushing from the busted well.
However, he said, “We still haven’t established what the flow rate is.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said a proper measurement will help to assess accountability for the catastrophe and to determine the overall environmental damage.
“The amount of oil that leaks will help determine the amount of fine BP will pay,” Gibbs said.
As of Monday, BP reported, the cost of the response is estimated at $1.25 billion. And though the company said it has paid more than 18,000 claims, totaling $48 million, Allen said he would like to see BP do a better job of responding to those who have reported losses related to the spill.
Gibbs said people needing help with claims should visit the website disasterassistance.gov.
One tool being used to fight the spill is chemical dispersant, of which more than one million gallons have been used both on the surface and below to help break up the oil before it reaches shore.
Allen said more dispersant was being used under water than on the surface, in order to reach oil that may linger several inches to several feet below.
Addressing questions about the adequacy of the federal response to the spill, Allen admitted that no one was truly prepared for this crisis — despite regular Coast Guard drills to prepare for such emergencies.
“I don’t think any plan ever envisioned ... such a wide area’’ of oil, he said, noting that winds and currents were adding to the challenge by spreading the crude across a wide area.
The complexity of a crisis that crosses jurisdictions, involving multiples states and federal agencies and BP, also has added to the challenge.
“We have to learn how to adapt,” he said.
Across Florida, the fear was that damage to the state’s precious coastline was poised to get much worse.
But on Monday, a hopeful sign emerged when NOAA removed about 500 square miles from the closed fishing area. The change is at the northeast edge of the closed area near Panama City Beach — slightly decreasing the area closed to fishermen to 78,264 square miles, or about 32% of the federal waters in the Gulf.
On St. Petersburg beach Monday, Gov. Charlie Crist sympathized with local business owners who complained that they’re are already registering losses.
The governor said it was “pretty definite’’ he would call for a legislative special session as early as July to consider a constitutional amendment that would ban offshore drilling off Florida, coupled with the possibility of looking at renewable energy options, in an effort to move toward “more green’’ technologies.
Miami Herald reporter Mazzei reported from Pensacola, Figueroa from Destin and Chang from Miami. Herald staff writer Lesley Clark in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report. Bradenton Herald staffer Sara Kennedy contributed from St. Petersburg.