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BP Faces Mounting Pressure Over Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response

BP CEO Tony Hayward, standing in the BP command center, updates reporters on efforts to clean up the catastrophic oil spill off the Louisiana coast (File Photo)

BP CEO Tony Hayward, standing in the BP command center, updates reporters on efforts to clean up the catastrophic oil spill off the Louisiana coast (File Photo)

Pressure is mounting on BP as the energy giant faces a deadline to come up with a better plan to stop the oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The White House says it will press the company this week to set up an account to make sure that legitimate claims filed by individuals and businesses hurt by the disaster are paid.

On Friday, the U.S. government gave BP 48 hours to provide a better plan to contain oil leaking from its damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico and to speed up its recovery effort.

Nearly two months have passed since a fire aboard an oil rig triggered the worst oil spill disaster in U.S. history. BP has struggled to find ways to stop the flow of crude from the ruptured underwater well. Scientists estimate that between 950,000 to 2.5 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf.

Last Thursday, BP presented the U.S. government with a plan to double the amount of oil it is collecting. But the company says that it will not be until mid-July that a more permanent cap on the well can be put in place.

U.S. President Barack Obama is stepping up government efforts to control the spill. Over the weekend, he spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and on Monday he is expected to make his fourth trip to the Gulf Coast since the crisis began. President Obama is scheduled to make a nationally televised address on the spill on Tuesday evening, after he returns to Washington.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will meet with BP executives at the White House.

Senior White House advisor, David Axelrod, told NBC television's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday that during the meeting, the president will press BP to set up an account to make sure it can pay damage claims to those who have been hurt by the spill. "We want to make sure that money is escrowed for the legitimate claims that are going to be made - and are being made - by businesses down in the Gulf, people who have been damaged by this. We want to make sure that money is independently administered, so that they won't be slow walked on these claims," he said.

Axelrod said the administration's mission is to hold BP accountable in every appropriate way. "I don't consider them a partner, I don't consider them - they are not social friends. I'm not looking to make judgments about their souls. I just want to make sure that they do what they are required to do," he said.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the head of the U.S. response to the spill, told the CBS television program "Face the Nation" on Sunday that there are concerns about the claims process. "This is not a core function of an oil producing company and they usually retain a third party contractor to do that. It's not clear to us that there's the right transparency involved concerning the data - how long it takes to pay a claim. So one of the things we're probably going to be talking about is an independent third party that could administer a fund to make sure it happens quicker," he said.

The British-based Financial Times newspaper reports that more than 160 class action lawsuits have been filed against BP over the damage caused by the spill. The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating whether BP and other companies involved in the disaster broke the law.

Dozens of Democratic Senators say they will send a letter to the head of BP, calling on the company to set up a $20 billion account, administered by an independent trustee, to pay for cleanup and economic damages caused by oil spill.

In the letter, the lawmakers say the fund will do more to improve BP's public image than what they call a "costly public relations campaign." They have asked for a response by Friday - a day after the company's chief executive, Tony Hayward, is scheduled to make his first appearance before a congressional committee.