Obama to face reporters, delay new drilling permits in heightened response to Gulf oil spill

By Charles Babington, AP
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Obama to take questions, cite report, on oil spill

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, stepping up his response to the Gulf oil spill, plans to announce new drilling restrictions while subjecting himself to the most intensive questioning yet on the subject before traveling to the stricken region.

As the five-week-old spill fouls Louisiana coastal areas and threatens political harm to his administration, Obama is rolling out a multi-pronged response: accepting and deflecting portions of the blame, adopting new safety standards and trying to reassure Americans that every possible step is being taken to cap the underwater gusher and clean up the spreading mess.

He’ll face reporters Thursday, then travel to the Gulf Coast on Friday.

The administration on Thursday will also announce delays in granting permits to drill in the Arctic and in portions of the Gulf. Shell Oil is poised to begin exploratory drilling this summer on Arctic leases as far as 140 miles offshore.

For all his power to make such rules, however, the president must depend mainly on the company that was leasing the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig when the explosion occurred, killing 11 people. BP PLC began a new effort Wednesday to plug the mile-deep well with heavy drilling mud, a tactic never before tried at such depths.

Any early hint of success — which conceivably could come Thursday — would prove enormously welcome to the Gulf region, of course, but also to the White House, Congress, federal agencies and other institutions that share responsibility for oversight, regulation and what went wrong.

Obama has taken few public questions since the April 20 oil rig explosion. But he will conduct a full-blown news conference Thursday at the White House, aides said. He also will discuss highlights of a preliminary report from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on lessons to be learned from the disaster. Recommendations include the slowdown on Arctic and Gulf drilling.

At the Capitol on Thursday, lawmakers will grill various officials at five congressional hearings. Topics will include the Gulf spill’s environmental damage, the administration’s response and the impact on small businesses.

On Wednesday, Salazar told the House Natural Resources Committee that lax oversight of oil companies dates to the administration of Republican President George W. Bush.

“Essentially whatever it is they wanted is what they got,” Salazar said.

GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado asked when Obama’s team would stop blaming problems on an administration that left office 16 months ago. Salazar replied that the federal Minerals Management Service, while heavily criticized lately, is still not “the candy store of the industry, which you and others were a part of.”

Salazar said a “relentless effort” is under way to combat the Gulf spill. It involves more than 20,000 people in the affected area and more than 1,000 ships and vessels “out there in the ocean trying to clean up the spill,” he said.

TV images of oil constantly gushing from an underwater pipe have stoked public anger toward BP and a federal government that appears ill-equipped to deal with the fiasco.

“We’re going to bring every resource necessary to put a stop to this thing,” Obama said Wednesday in California, where his stop at a solar energy plant was overshadowed by the latest efforts to cap the leaking oil well. “But a lot of damage has been done already.”

Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Ben Feller, Erica Werner, Mark S. Smith and Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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