News / USA

Obama to Face Media on Gulf Oil Disaster

When he goes before reporters on Thursday at a White House news conference, President Obama will face tough questions about his administration's handling of the deep sea oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. It will be the president's first news conference since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in April.

The president has been under intense pressure from critics, on the right the left of the political spectrum, and from the media over steps taken to deal with the Gulf situation, and the pressure his administration has placed on BP to deal with the leak.

Hard questions are being asked about what comes next, what President Obama will do if the leak cannot be stopped, and what will be done even if it is, to try to prevent a recurrence and strengthen offshore drilling regulation.

The president, who will make his second visit to the Gulf area on Friday, made these remarks on Wednesday in California before heading back to Washington.  "Let me reiterate, we will not rest until this well is shut, the environment is repaired and cleanup is complete," he said.

For several weeks, President Obama and his advisers have also sought to focus the attention of the media on what the administration has done to enlist the best scientific and engineering minds to work on the problem and avoid future catastrophes.

The question of what the government will do going forward was addressed earlier this week by the now former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, who has been retained by the president as the point person overseeing the government's overall response.

Admiral Allen was asked about what will be done to compare current U.S. oil drilling regulation with standards in other parts of the world. "I have asked my staff to take a look at other regulatory regimes around the world, and how certain countries treat the regulation and the inspections of blow out preventers and drilling systems," he said.

Examinations of international standards, he added, could take place under the International Maritime Organization, to which the U.S. is a signatory,  to compare current inspection procedures with those in force elsewhere.

Among questions asked repeatedly has been whether the Deepwater Horizon disaster will force a change in the president's decision to expand offshore drilling in coming years.  The government has already blocked for now issuance of final permits for new drilling activity.

Thursday's news conference will also coincide with delivery of a formal report to the president from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on what has been uncovered so far on the origins of the Gulf catastrophe.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also pointed to an independent commission created by the president who he says is committed to a thorough review of all aspects of the situation. "Looking at both the role of industry and the role of government in regulating industry.  The president I think has been very clear that we should not spare any expense in looking at both of those aspects in what may or may not have caused this," he said.

A day before President Obama's news conference, angry lawmakers in a House of Representatives hearing confronted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with questions about reports of weak enforcement and ethics violations by government offshore drilling inspectors.

Salazar underscored the government's commitment to hold BP accountable for all costs related to the oil leak, another issue expected to feature prominently in Thursday's news conference. "That means all response costs to this oil spill, which is their spill, it means all damages will be paid with respect to any impacts of natural resource, it means all costs related to the cleanup, and it means those who will be effected in the Gulf coast from an economic point of view will also receive compensation," he said.

Salazar made a point of noting that in several meetings with BP, the company in his words pledged not to "hide behind" a $75 million damage liability limit currently in force under U.S. law, which lawmakers intend to eliminate, a move the Obama administration supports.

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