BP Wrestles Cap over Leak as Obama Heads Back to Gulf

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Agence France-Presse

BP Wrestles Cap over Leak as Obama Heads Back to Gulf

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This still image from a live BP video shows a cap being lowered in the hopes of sealing the fractured oil pipe spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A "furious" President Barack Obama was heading back to Louisiana Friday as ghastly images of dying, oil-drenched birds brought home the spreading devastation from the unchecked Gulf of Mexico oil spill. (AFP/BP)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana  – BP engineers capped a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico but
failed to stop it gushing more oil Friday, as a "furious" President
Barack Obama prepared to head back to the stricken coast.

Obama
also postponed a trip to Australia and Indonesia set for later this
month in a clear sign that the mounting public anger over the disaster
is forcing changes in the president's crowded political agenda.

Remote-controlled
submarines wrestled the cap onto a sawed off pipe nearly a mile (1.6
kilometers) below the surface late Thursday -- the latest in a string
of desperate attempts to cut off the worst oil spill in US history.

But
a live video feed showed oil pouring from the inverted, funnel-like
device long after it had been placed over the pipe in near-freezing
waters. BP had intended to siphon the oil to a ship on the surface.

BP
earlier managed to slice off the fractured well pipe with a pair of
giant shears, but the cut was jagged and officials had to resort to a
looser-fitting cap.

US Coast Guard chief Admiral Thad Allen,
the official in charge of the government response to the spill, had
earlier called the cap effort "another positive development" but said
it would take some time to see if it worked.

"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," he said.

Shocking
images of pelicans and seabirds writhing in oil along the Louisiana
coast were meanwhile carried on US television networks, graphically
underscoring the disaster's rising costs.

Making his third
visit to Louisiana since BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20,
killing 11 workers, Obama planned to meet later Friday with Allen as
well as state and local elected officials.

The president has
come under growing criticism for seeming disengaged from the growing
public outrage over the disaster and BP's failure to stem the leak.

"I
would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at
people, but that is not what I was hired to do -- my job is to solve
this problem," Obama told CNN Thursday, adding he was "furious at this
entire situation."

He also disputed claims that political
trauma over America's worst environmental catastrophe would crimp his
broader political agenda.

Early Friday, however, White House
spokesman Robert Gibbs announced that Obama had called the leaders of
Australia and Indonesia to tell them he had decided to postpone a trip
later this month.

It was the second time this year he had put
off the trip to Indonesia, a southeast Asian heavyweight where Obama
spent four years as a youth.

In Canberra, a spokesman for Prime
Minister Kevin Rudd said Obama "explained the challenge represented by
the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the continuing strong efforts
of the administration to respond to that."

More than six weeks
into the disaster, the federal government sent BP a 69-million-dollar
bill to reimburse American taxpayers for the government's costs so far
in battling the worst oil spill in US history.

Spreading in
oily ribbons, the slick is now threatening Alabama, Mississippi and
Florida after contaminating more than 125 miles (200 kilometers) of
Louisiana coastline.

Related article:Scope of Gulf of Mexico
oil spill still a mystery Scientists also warned the impact of
"invisible" undersea oil may be felt for years.

"The public is
seeing just a small fraction of what is taking place out there. Most of
the oil is under the surface," Larry Schweiger, president and chief
executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, told AFP.

The
US government has estimated the flow of oil at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels
a day -- meaning between 22 million and some 36 million gallons have
already poured into the Gulf. The flow was also believed to have
increased by 20 percent after the riser pipe was cut.

By
comparison, Alaska's 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster -- the worst US oil
spill before the Deepwater Horizon blast -- resulted in an
11-million-gallon spill.

After the cap, the next chance to halt
the flow of oil would not come until mid-August, when two relief wells
are due to be completed.

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