Obama: There Will Be More Oil Before This Siege is Done

President Obama

The Obama administration has received a lot of flack over the past several weeks for its timid approach to the BP oil disaster. On May 27, the President hinted in a speech that he would turn up the pressure on BP. And now, weeks later, Obama is finally defending his response to what he calls "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced."

In today's Oval Office speech, Obama guaranteed viewers that the government will make BP pay that it "will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long as it takes." At the same time, the President defended the government's response thus far, rattling off a list of morale-boosting facts and figures: 30,000 personnel working across four states, thousands of ships and other vessels, authorization of deployment of over 17,000 national guardsman, million of gallons of oil already removed. And while the President admitted that "there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done," he failed to mention that the spill might go on until Christmas.

As expected, Obama reiterated the need for safety in future offshore drilling with both a national commission to understand the causes of the disaster and with the continuation a six-month moratorium on licenses for new offshore wells. But even as he admitted that "drilling these days entails greater risks," Obama didn't reveal any plans for future moratoriums on offshore drilling. The President did, however, announce the creation of an independent BP-funded escrow account to pay out claims for damages related to the disaster—an appropriate step to ensure that BP doesn't short-change Gulf Coast residents. [Update: BP has agreed to set up a $20 billion fund for oil disaster victims.]

Obama also provided us with a healthy dose of forward-thinking optimism. He emphasized that "now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation," and that we can—and will—achieve our clean energy goals. The problem of creating enough clean energy isn't too big, he reasoned, because the "same thing was said about our ability to land a man safely on the moon."

But in the end, we're not sure that Obama's speech is much more than lofty rhetoric. Oil is still flowing, the moratorium on offshore drilling is only temporary and the Justice Department hasn't begun a proper criminal investigation into BP's practices. The President even said that he refuses to let Gulf Coast residents' way of life be destroyed, but how can he realistically guarantee that? We're curious to see if Obama can eventually reconcile his words with his actions.

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Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • Erika Hayes James

    Neither Obama nor his administration has the financial resources or the expertise to stop the spill, so the focus of the criticism in this regard is misplaced. Obama and his administration must work collaboratively to both stop the spill and execute a clean-up effort. Having just returned from a day of meetings with people at the National Incident Command Center for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill I have seen first-hand this collaboration in progress.

    What concerns me more about Obama’s handling of the oil spill is that he is reacting too much to the external pressures of various interest groups without seemingly first having devised a vision for the short- and long-term future of oil exploration and alternative energy, and a concrete strategy for achieving that vision. To develop the strategy requires that he have frank conversations with oil executives, policy makers, local government, environmental groups, and other key stakeholders. The impact of his decisions on deep water drilling will have immeasurable economic impact in this country and around the world; and even temporary decisions like the moratorium on deep water drilling in the gulf seemed to have been made without the benefit of adequate perspective-taking.

  • Megan DaGata

    I think Obama is a little optimistic of the effects the oil and the chemical dispersants are going to have on the Gulf of Mexico. The level of toxic waste in the Gulf was so high before this that there was already a large "dead zone" from the mouth of the Mississippi to the upper Texas Gulf coast, oxygen levels so low that most plant and animal life could not survive. The fishermen were already working on borrowed time because no one in the empiracal energy sector that runs the Gulf wanted to make the necessary changes to reestablish a functioning ecosystem. The scientists and teachers that live in the Gulf have been telling the story of the Gulf for years and pushing for the oil and chemical manufacturers to make changes but nothing has been good enough.

    Yearly there are people in the Gulf coast region who develope terminal illnesses just from going for a swim in the wrong sections of the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay region. People have lost limbs from "bacteria" and developed respiratory illness just from breathing the air. If Obama wants to reestablish the way of life of the Gulf Coast we need work on more than just this oil spill. The oil and its effects are going to be with us for decades to come, but there are so many other troubling problems that already existed in this area before this latest BP disaster.

    Can I see a show of hands on who has had to shelter in place because of BP's other mishaps in the Gulf Coast region?? I have my hand raised...and know several hundred thousand others who can raise their hands as well.

    There is a fundamental problem that lead to this incident. We need to correct that problem and line of thinking before we can restore the already very fragile ecosystem.