BP's latest effort to contain Gulf disaster stalls as oil slick drifts toward coast

The Obama administration’s point man on the Gulf oil spill said Wednesday that BP’s latest effort to contain the gusher had stalled, as the oil slick drifted closer to the Florida coast and made landfall in parts of Alabama and Mississippi.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters that a saw trying to cut through a riser pipe became stuck and robots were attempting to dislodge it. Once the pipe is severed – the cleaner the cut, the better – BP intends to lower a containment dome over the top of it as a temporary fix designed to capture much, but not all, of the leaking oil.

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"I don't think the issue is whether or not we can make the second cut. It's about how fine we can make it, how smooth we can make it," Allen said.

News of the setback came as President Barack Obama was set to deliver a speech in Pittsburgh, in which he was expected to again suggest the disaster could bring criminal charges.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the federal government had launched civil and criminal investigations into the spill.

“The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error – or corporations taking dangerous short-cuts that compromised safety,” Obama will say, according to excerpts of his remarks released in advance.

“But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth – risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. Just like we have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and grandchildren.”

The president will also use the Gulf Coast disaster to highlight the need to "fully embrace a clean energy future."

"That means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy efficient," he will say. "It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants. And it means rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development."

He also was expected to call on the Senate to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill, saying "the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months."

Meanwhile, Louisiana Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon on Wednesday called for the firing of BP CEO Tony Hayward.
 
Melancon – who is challenging Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in the fall – said Hayward's job performance has not been up to par. He specifically cited comments the executive made over the weekend in which he apologized for the spill but also said, “I’d like my life back.”

"I was watching this week as the CEO of BP said he wants his life back. I'm to the point where I wish the board would call him back," Melancon said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"If I perform the way this company has performed, and of course look at the stocks and what has happened in this incident, usually the buck stops there,” he said.

Hayward on Wednesday apologized for the comment, calling it "hurtful and thoughtless."

"My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families – to restore their lives, not mine," he said.

Hayward has been a lightning rod for criticism from the public as oil continues to spill into the Gulf. But Melancon is among the first lawmakers to call for his ouster. Both he and Vitter have been outspoken during the spill, which already has affected the Louisiana coastline and the state’s commercial fishing industry.

Hayward said last weekend that the company is trying to contain oil offshore.

"As far as I'm concerned, a cup of oil on the beach is a failure," he said last weekend.

"What we're not faced with is a complete line of oil coming at us. It's more like guerrilla insurgency, if I can use military jargon," Hayward said. "And what we need to do is have a rapid response capability to get it as we identify it, rather than have it come onto the shore or onto the marsh."

This post was updated at 1:18 p.m.