The White House pledged on Sunday to do everything "humanly possible" to address the Gulf Coast oil spill as President Barack Obama got a firsthand assessment of the environmental disaster.
He heard from advisers about progress on lowering a device that would capture oil flowing from the underwater well off Louisiana, and about shooting chemicals deep near the well in hopes of breaking up the oil before it can reach the surface.
"That's something that hasn't been tried before, and I think it goes to show that we are trying everything that we know and even some things that haven't been tried before," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters during the flight from Washington.
The leaking oil well is not only an ecological catastrophe but a potential political hazard, as well, depending on how the public judges the Obama administration's response. Then-President George W. Bush stumbled in dealing with Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf in 2005, leaving the impression of a president distant from the immense suffering. His presidency never recovered.
A month ago, Obama said he was ready to expand drilling in some parts of the central and south Atlantic and eastern Gulf areas. On Friday, in a largely symbolic gesture, Obama promised that no new offshore oil drilling leases will be issued unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the Gulf spill.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said any comparison between the ruptured BP oil well and Katrina was "a total mischaracterization" and that the government has taken an "all hands on deck."
Explaining Obama's visit after the April 20 oil platform explosion, Gibbs said, "He's here today to make sure that we are continuing to do all that is humanly possible."
Obama was met at the airport by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, then left in a motorcade for Venice, about 75 miles to the southeast and the site of a staging area close to the water.
The president received a briefing from his homeland security adviser, John Brennan, and his energy adviser, Carol Browner, on BP's plans to lower a dome that would cap the well at the sea floor and hopefully halt the flow of an estimated 5,000 barrels a day into Gulf waters.
BP's chairman, Lamar McKay, said Sunday he expects the 40-foot high dome structure to be ready to be deployed in six to eight days. Such domes have been used in other well blowout incidents, but never in such deep waters. The oil would be captured and funneled to the surface.
The advisers also told the president of some preliminary success by BP to shoot oil dispersant chemicals deep into the water, near the source of the leak. An initial test showed signs of success and a second test was planned for Sunday.
The threats of further spread of the oil slick, promoted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to close for at least 10 days, commercial and recreational fishing from Louisiana to parts of the Florida Panhandle.
The Coast Guard estimated that at least 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers on an offshore rig. In the Exxon Valdez disaster, an oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons off Alaska's shores in 1989.
Obama has relied on reports from agency chiefs and Coast Guard officials since the magnitude of the spill became clear late Wednesday. Aides report he's been getting regular updates.
Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the administration's point man on the disaster, the commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen, made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to defend the federal response.
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