By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010; A05
The White House ordered BP to pay for construction of five more large sections of Louisiana barrier island sand berms Wednesday as efforts to contain the gushing Deepwater Horizon oil spill hit more obstacles and the slick approached Florida.
BP announced later Wednesday that it supports the administration's decision, and that the project will cost the company an estimated $360 million. That is double the amount it has spent so far in helping the region respond to the oil spill.
"The federal government and the state of Louisiana have agreed that the barrier islands construction is an effective response to the spill, and we look forward to working with them on this project," said Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive officer.
"There is no time for waiting," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) after learning that the plan would go ahead. "We are asking the Coast Guard and the federal government to force BP to act responsibly and immediately get to work on all the six segments that have now been approved as part of our oil spill-fighting efforts."
The costly construction has been a high priority for Louisiana officials, but federal officials have worried about unintended environmental consequences, and BP has been less than eager to pay -- calling the buildup a "hurricane relief project." The Army Corps of Engineers issued six permits in late May to build up about 50 of the 100 miles of barrier islands requested by Louisiana.
Although the projects have received expedited environmental approval, the administration also needed to determine whether the work would actually stop oil from entering the marshlands, and to persuade BP to pay for it.
Out in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has given up trying to stop the leak permanently until relief wells now being drilled reach it in August, and continued to struggle to contain it. On Wednesday, a diamond-tipped saw being used to cut a broken riser pipe and prepare it for a containment "hat" got stuck, and the cut couldn't be completed.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the crisis, said the amount of oil contained by the stopgap covering will be determined to some extent by how fine a cut is made.
Federal ocean specialists launched a research vessel Wednesday to determine whether large plumes of oil are floating beneath the surface, as some researchers have claimed and which BP has denied.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship Thomas Jefferson will travel around the gulf for 10 days to search for underwater oil.
Tar balls and oil sheen from the huge slick reached Alabama's Dauphin Island on Wednesday, as well as parts of Mississippi. The oil was also spotted less than 10 miles from the Florida Panhandle, further threatening the region's vital seafood and tourism industries.
The issue of how offshore oil projects should be reviewed was addressed Wednesday by the Interior Department. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the department's Minerals Management Service gave "categorical exclusions" from environmental review to eight offshore operations, including the Deepwater Horizon.
Bob Abbey, the agency's acting director, announced that "before drilling new oil and gas wells on the Outer Continental Shelf, operators will be required to submit additional information about potential risks and safety considerations in their plans for exploration or development." He said exploration and development plans previously approved by the agency using "categorical exclusions" would have to be resubmitted.
Staff writers Juliet Eilperin, Dan Zak in New Orleans and David A. Fahrenthold in Dauphin Island, Ala., contributed to this report.