BP CEO says he's 'devastated'

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

FOURCHON BEACH, La. -- BP's chief executive said Monday that he had underestimated the possible environmental impact of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Tony Hayward walked along oil-soaked Fourchon Beach and talked with cleanup workers in white overalls and yellow boots, some shoveling oily sand into garbage cans.

''I'm as devastated as you are by what I've seen here today,'' he told reporters. ''We are going to do everything in our power to prevent any more oil from coming ashore and we will clean every last drop up and we will remediate all of the environmental damage.''

Fourchon Beach is one of the few sandy beaches in Louisiana, where most of the coast is marshland. Oil has come ashore there and at nearby Grand Isle in recent days as the spill continues to move west into sensitive wetlands and fishing grounds.

Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said BP is exhausting every possibility to plug the spill, which was triggered by an offshore drilling rig explosion April 20. He said he couldn't push the company aside even if he wanted to.

''To push BP out of the way, it would raise the question, to replace them with what?'' Allen, who's heading the government response to the spill, told reporters at a White House briefing.

Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, said it will be at least Wednesday before the company tries using heavy mud and cement to plug the leak, a maneuver called a top kill that represents the best hope of stopping the oil after several failed attempts. BP initially said it would try Tuesday, but company spokesman John Curry said more time is needed to get equipment in place and test it.

''Our goal, of course, is to succeed,'' Curry said. ''We want this as much as anyone and our best chance of success is looking like Wednesday morning.''

Several officials from President Barack Obama's administration led a delegation of U.S. senators who surveyed the affected areas from the air Monday, then held a press conference to emphasize that the cleanup is BP's responsibility.

''We are going to stay on this and stay on BP until this gets done and it gets done the right way,'' said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Engineers are working on several backup plans in case the top kill doesn't work. Suttles said they will likely try to cap the well with a small containment dome if the maneuver fails. He said they are also considering injecting assorted junk into the well to stop the oil.

BP said Monday its costs for the spill had grown to about $760 million, including containment efforts, drilling a relief well to stop the leak permanently, grants to Gulf states for their response costs, and payment of damage claims. BP said it's too early to calculate other potential costs and liabilities.