NPR logo Best-Case Scenario For Gulf Spill Still Looks Bleak

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Best-Case Scenario For Gulf Spill Still Looks Bleak

Rough weather Monday continued to hamper efforts to contain a giant oil slick menacing the Gulf Coast as officials redoubled their efforts to stave off what is shaping up to be an inevitable economic and environmental disaster.

The best-case scenario is that oil will continue gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for another week. British oil company BP is working to deploy a system that would siphon away crude from the blown-out well a mile underwater, but it will take six to eight days to get it in place.

As coastal communities waited for the 130-mile-long, rust-colored slick to wash ashore, BP's CEO told NPR that his company would assume full responsibility for the cost of the cleanup and any "legitimate" legal claims made as a result of the spill. The company leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that was hit by an explosion April 20 and sank two days later, killing 11 workers.

"It is indeed BP's responsibility to deal with this, and we are dealing with it," Tony Hayward told Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

"We will absolutely be paying for the cleanup operation. There is no doubt about that. It's our responsibility — we accept it fully," he added.

BP posted a fact sheet on its website detailing that it would pay compensation for legitimate claims for property damage, personal injury and commercial losses.

President Obama reiterated Sunday that BP must shoulder the cost of the disaster. "BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill," he said while touring a Coast Guard staging area in Venice, La.

Teams working to contain the spill have had limited success using airplanes to drop chemical dispersants meant to break up the oil, and rough seas have prevented ships from skimming crude from the surface.

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Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said Monday that wind and waves had displaced nearly 80 percent of the containment boom that had been put around the state's fragile coastline. But he was optimistic that containment efforts could be put back on track.

"We should have enough time to not only put it all back but get the additional boom out there that we've been talking about the last couple of days," Riley said.

Deepwater Horizon Disaster

April 20: Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explodes off Louisiana coast. Eleven workers missing and presumed dead.

April 22: Rig sinks.

April 23: Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry says no oil appeared to be appeared to be leaking from the undersea wellhead or at the water's surface.

April 24: Leak reported; oil estimated to be leaking at rate of 1,000 barrels a day.

April 29: Coast Guard says leak may be five times greater than earlier estimate: 5,000 barrels a day. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declares state of emergency.

May 1: Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen named national incident commander.

May 2: President Obama visits Coast Guard station in Venice, La.

May 3: BP CEO Tony Hayward tells NPR his company will pay for the cleanup and any "legitimate" legal claims.

The situation could become even more grave if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and flows to the beaches of Florida and potentially whips around the state's southern tip and up the Eastern Seaboard. Tourist-magnet beaches and countless wildlife could be ruined.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said the Gulf of Mexico spill could be devastating for Florida because its tourism industry depends on having beautiful beaches. People in the state's Panhandle are panicked, Nelson said at a tourism conference.

"I've been in Pensacola and I am very, very concerned about this filth in the Gulf of Mexico," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said at a weekend fundraiser for his U.S. Senate campaign. "It's not a spill, it's a flow. Envision sort of an underground volcano of oil and it keeps spewing over 200,000 gallons every single day, if not more."

BP's Hayward told NPR that the company was working on a three-pronged approach to containing the spill. In addition to the dome-like system to siphon off spilled oil — which he said has "never been tried at 5,000 feet" — BP is using robotic submarines to try to repair a failed blowout preventer mechanism. It is also drilling a relief well to isolate the ruptured pipeline on the sea floor, but that process is likely to take months to complete.

On Sunday, federal fishing areas that stretch 6,800 square miles from the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle were closed for at least 10 days and likely more. The ban came just as the prime spring season was getting under way, threatening the livelihoods of fisherman in four states.

The Coast Guard and BP have said it's nearly impossible to know exactly how much oil has gushed since the blast. It has been roughly estimated to be at least 200,000 gallons a day.

At that rate, it would eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill, which dumped 11 million gallons off the Alaska coast, as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history.