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Gulf oil spill: Obama administration continues to press BP on cleanup

May 24, 2010 | 11:01 am

A "heartsick" Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Monday that the federal government is continuing to work on the growing Gulf of Mexico oil leak and will do everything it can to clean up the mess and to hold BP accountable for the damage.

Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a congressional delegation toured the area to assess the damage from a leaking well that is 5,000 feet below the gulf’s surface.

The government is organizing a group of scientists to estimate the amount of oil that is coming out of the well, she said. Estimates of the spillage vary from 5,000 barrels a day to many times that. Even the most conservative estimates place the spill at millions of gallons since a deep-water rig exploded and sank at the end of last month.

BP owns the well, but the rig was operated by another company. BP has said it will pay all legitimate claims arising from what the federal government calls a disaster.

“This is largest incident response to an oil spill ever in the history of the United States,” Napolitano said. “We continue to hold BP responsible as the responsible party. But we are on them, watching them. We know the value of these lands, of these parishes.”

“We are heartsick that Grand Isle is now at risk,” she said of one of the barrier islands now in the way of the growing oil slick. “We are going to do everything we can to protect these lands, to protect these parishes and to make sure that claims are paid, the oil well is sealed and this area comes back.”

Gov. Jindal said the leak “threatens our way of life in Louisiana.”

Jindal estimated that 70 miles of Louisiana coast has been hit by oil. He called for more resources and for the federal government to have a greater on-site role in pushing cleanup efforts.

“Our top goal is to keep this oil out of wetlands, these marshes,” he said.

Salazar, who like Napolitano is making his fourth visit to the region, insisted the federal government was not standing by, but is actively working to stop the damage and to oversee BP’s efforts.

“The fact of the matter is that this is a BP mess. It is a horrible mess,” Salazar said. “We will not rest until their job is done.”

-- Michael Muskal

Photos: Oil spill spreads in the Gulf of Mexico

Related: Obama administration talks tough, but has limited options in oil leak crisis

Photo: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, center, with Mary Landrieu, D-La., left, Sen. David Vitter, R-La. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, speaks at a press conference in Galliano, La. Credit: Patrick Semansky / Associated Press