Obama tours disaster zone to set stage for national address

Obama tours disaster zone to set stage for national address

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama labelled the Gulf oil spill an environmental 9/11 as he made a fourth disaster zone trip.

The London-based energy giant’s shares meanwhile slumped 10 percent, amid deep investor anxiety about the costs it will bear for America’s worst ecological catastrophe and investor fears for the firm’s lucrative dividend.

Obama sought to engineer a pivot point following sharp criticism of his handling of the two-month Gulf of Mexico disaster.

He set off on a two-day, three-state tour of areas fearing a devastating ecological and economic blow from the massive oil slick coating a vast swathe of the Gulf, and threatening tourist resorts and teeming fishing stocks.

The visit to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida was set to bolster Obama’s message in his first Oval Office address to the American people on Tuesday night, focusing on the disaster.

He also hoped to set the stage for his showdown with BP’s chairman at the White House the next day.

Obama also apparently sought to defuse claims that he has shown insufficient empathy with local people who fear their way of life will be destroyed by the disaster unleashed by the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April.

The president munched on shrimp and mini crab cakes to show local seafood was safe and implored Americans to visit the dazzling white sands of the southern coast, aiming to boost the fishing and tourism sectors.

‘There’s still a lot of opportunity for visitors to come down here. There are a lot of beaches that have not been affected and will not be affected,’ Obama said in Gulfport, Mississippi.

White House deputy spokesman Bill Burton meanwhile said the administration was confident it had legal authority to prod BP to set up an escrow account to compensate those pitched into economic hardship by the disaster.

BP met a 48-hour ultimatum on Sunday to present a new plan to roughly triple the amount of oil it is capturing from the ruptured undersea well by the end of June, to more than 50,000 barrels, 2.1 million gallons, a day.

The company is currently siphoning up about 15,000 barrels of oil a day to a ship on the surface, about half the amount believed to be streaming into the Gulf from a well it has repeatedly failed to plug.

In London, BP’s already pummelled shares plunged more then 10 percent to 351 pence in late afternoon trade.

Earlier reports suggested BP would bow to massive U.S. pressure and decide to suspend dividend payments as its potential liability over the oil spill soars.
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