'Way Too Early' For Optimism On Spill, Obama Says

BP's live stream of the oil leak from a remotely operated vehicle on the seabed:

Visiting Louisiana again on the 45th day of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, President Obama said Friday it was "way too early to be optimistic" about the latest attempt to siphon off oil spewing from a broken pipe 5,000 feet underwater.

Obama said progress was being made in controlling the spill, but he criticized oil giant BP for spending on advertising and shareholder dividends, saying the company must not do that if it's "nickeling and diming" local businesses and workers.

The president got a briefing on the spill and headed to a barrier island to visit local workers affected by the catastrophe. It was his third visit to the Louisiana coast since the disaster unfolded.

BP reported Friday that some oil was flowing up a pipe from a funnel-like lid wrestled onto the broken well, but it was unclear how much could be captured.

"Progress is being made, but we need to caution against over-optimism,'' said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point person for the disaster. Allen said a very rough estimate of current collection would be about 42,000 gallons a day, though he stressed the information was anecdotal.

Meanwhile, gooey tar balls washed up on the barrier beaches of northwestern Florida.

Spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number before dawn on the beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and nearby areas, a county emergency official said. The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola.

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  • Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and wife Carole Rome Crist (right) stand with others during a Hands Across the Sand event June 26 in Pensacola, Fla. The event was staged across the nation to protest offshore oil drilling.
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  • Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts an oil-covered pelican out of the water on Queen Bess Island in Plaquemines Parish, La., June 5.
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  • President Obama walks alongside Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle (from right), U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response to the spill, and Chris Camardelle after meeting with local business owners in Grand Isle, La., June 4.
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    President Obama walks alongside Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle (from right), U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response to the spill, and Chris Camardelle after meeting with local business owners in Grand Isle, La., June 4.
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  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the BP oil spill. With him, from left: Stephanie Finley and Jim Letten, U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Louisiana; Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division; Tony West, assistant attorney general, Civil Division; and Do...
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    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the BP oil spill. With him, from left: Stephanie Finley and Jim Letten, U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Louisiana; Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division; Tony West, assistant attorney general, Civil Division; and Don Burkhalter, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
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  • An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral it on an island in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. The island, which is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, is impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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    An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral it on an island in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. The island, which is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, is impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (center) and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser (right) tour the oil-impacted marsh of Pass a Loutre, La. "This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now," said Jindal.
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    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (center) and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser (right) tour the oil-impacted marsh of Pass a Loutre, La. "This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now," said Jindal.
    Gerald Herbert/AP
  • BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay (left), with Transocean President and CEO Steven Newman (center) and Applied Science Associates Principal Deborah French McCay, testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing May 18 on response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill.
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    BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay (left), with Transocean President and CEO Steven Newman (center) and Applied Science Associates Principal Deborah French McCay, testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing May 18 on response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill.
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    Danene Birtell with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research tends to a Northern Gannet in Fort Jackson, La., on April 30. The bird, normally white when full grown, is covered in oil from the oil spill.
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  • Since the explosion, a third oil leak has been discovered in the blown-out well.
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    Since the explosion, a third oil leak has been discovered in the blown-out well.
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  • In this aerial photo taken April 21 more than 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns.
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    In this aerial photo taken April 21 more than 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns.
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    Tendrils of oil mar the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in this satellite image taken Monday. An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day are seeping into the Gulf, after an explosion last week on a drilling rig about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
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'Top Cap' In Place

BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, told NBC's Today show on Friday that oil has started flowing up the pipe from the cap.

Robots a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico positioned the device known as a "top hat" over the main pipe on the leaking well Thursday night. Live video footage, though, showed oil still billowing from the pipe.

"Even if successful, this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf's precious coastline, Allen said in a statement.

A rubber seal on the inside of the cap is meant to keep oil from escaping, though engineers acknowledge that some crude will still come out. The plan is to capture most of the spewing oil and bring it to a surface ship.

To put the cap in place, BP had to slice off the pipe with giant shears, which was risky because it could temporarily increase the flow by as much as 20 percent. Also, the shears made a less precise cut, making it more difficult for the lid to fit.

If the idea fails — like every other attempt to control the six-week-old leak — the best chance is probably a relief well, which is at least two months away. The well has spit out between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil since a rig exploded on April 20 about 50 miles from the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers. BP was leasing the rig and is responsible to fix and clean up the spill.

The Anger Builds

Photos of birds covered in thick, black goo stoked anger across the country and along the Louisiana coast.

In oil-soaked Grand Isle, Jason French might as well have painted a bull's-eye on his back Thursday night. His mission was to be BP's representative at a meeting for 50 or so residents who had gathered at a church to vent.

"We are all angry and frustrated," he said. "Feel free tonight to let me see that anger. Direct it at me, direct it at BP, but I want to assure you, the folks in this community, that we are working hard to remedy the situation."

Residents weren't buying it.

"Sorry doesn't pay the bills," said Susan Felio Price, a longtime resident.

"Through the negligence of BP, we now find ourselves trying to roller-skate up a mountain," she said. "We're growing really weary. We're tired. We're sick and tired of being sick and tired. Someone's got to help us get to the top of that mountain."

Documents Show Early Warnings

Meanwhile, newly disclosed internal Coast Guard documents from the day after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig indicate that U.S. officials were warning of a leak of 336,000 gallons per day of crude from the well in the event of a complete blowout.

The volume turned out to be much closer to that figure than the 42,000 gallons per day that BP first estimated. Weeks later, that was revised to 210,000 gallons. Now, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude is believed to be leaking daily.

The Center for Public Integrity, which initially reported the Coast Guard logs, said it obtained them from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The logs also showed early in the disaster that remote underwater robots were unable to activate the rig's blowout preventer, which was supposed to shut off the flow from the well in the event of such a catastrophic failure.

BP CEO Tony Hayward promised that the company would clean up every drop of oil and "restore the shoreline to its original state."

"BP will be here for a very long time. We realize this is just the beginning," he said.

Those on Grand Isle seemed less than convinced by BP's assurances.

"We want you to feel what we feel," said Leoda Bladsacker, a member of the town's council, as her voice trembled. "We're not going to be OK for a long, long time."

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