WASHINGTON — As the White House struggled to regain the American public’s trust as oil continues to gush from a BP well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the oil giant said its containment cap — its latest effort to plug the leak — was beginning to capture greater amounts of crude.
BP said it has increased the amount of oil being collected from its oozing well to 10,500 barrels a day and expects the quantity to increase in the days to come, a rare bit of promising news in the midst of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The containment cap is capturing “probably the vast majority” of the leaking oil, Tony Hayward, the beleaguered CEO of BP, told the BBC in an interview on Sunday. He added that another containment system would be put in place this week.
Admiral Thad Allen, the White House’s point man on the disaster, backed up BP’s numbers, but also cautioned against getting too optimistic.
“We’re making the right progress,” Allen, making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, said on CNN. “I don’t think anyone should be pleased as long as there’s oil in the water.”
The appearance of Hayward, the head of what’s now one of the most reviled and distrusted corporations on the planet, came as BP began airing ads apologizing for the catastrophe and U.S. President Barack Obama continued to face accusations he’s bungled his response to the worst crisis to hit a presidency that was already rife with them.
Allen said the gushing oil is just one of several fronts in a battle in the gulf that will stretch on for months.
“This is a war, it’s an insidious war, because it’s attacking, you know, four states one at a time, and it comes from different directions depending on the weather,” he said, referring to the millions of barrels of oil that have oozed into the gulf and are wreaking environmental havoc on the region.
The battle doesn’t end once the well is capped, he added on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“Even after that there will be oil out there for months to come. This will be well into the fall. This is a siege across the entire gulf.”
The criticisms of Obama, meantime, continued even among those usually sympathetic to the administration.
Polls show the majority of Americans, including Democrats, think he’s mishandled the response. He’s been accused of faltering badly by trusting BP — with its sorry record of oil rig safety violations — in the early days of the leak to be truthful about the amount of crude that was leaking, and has also faced criticisms that he failed to mobilize federal resources quickly enough.
New York Times columnist Frank Rich questioned on Sunday why Obama hadn’t been more politically savvy on the spill given so many Americans distrust big oil. The disaster has underscored the president’s biggest weakness, Rich wrote — his tendency to be too trusting of information being provided to him by so-called experts.
“No high-powered White House meetings or risk analyses were needed to discern how treacherous it was to trust BP this time. An intern could have figured it out,” Rich wrote.
“It’s this misplaced trust in elites both outside the White House and within it that seems to prevent Obama from realizing the moment that history has handed to him .... If Obama is to have a truly transformative presidency, there could be no better catalyst than oil.”
But in his weekly radio address from Louisiana on Saturday, Obama fought back against the criticisms.
“From the beginning, we mobilized on every front to contain and clean up this spill,” he said, running down a list of initiatives he says the White House has taken to combat the disaster.
“This is the largest response to an environmental disaster of its kind in the history of this country .... If laws were inadequate, laws will be changed; if oversight was lacking, it will be strengthened; and if laws were broken, those responsible will be brought to justice.”