Federal and state officials Friday pushed oil giant BP to intensify its efforts to cap a leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and to contain the slick that is threatening the shores and livelihoods of people in five states.
As crude oil began to come ashore in Louisiana, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met with the company's top executives and engineers and urged them to "work harder and faster and smarter to get the job done," he said.
"We cannot rest and we will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead and until they clean up every drop of oil," Salazar said.
Heavy winds and high tides impeded efforts to contain the growing slick Friday, and oil continued to gush from the damaged exploration well, sending pungent odors through neighborhoods near New Orleans. Governors from the region expressed frustration at the company's inability to get the situation under control.
At least 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled so far, according to Coast Guard estimates, making it one of the worst U.S. oil spills in decades.
As of Friday, only a sheen of oil from the edges of the slick was washing up at Venice, La., and other extreme southeastern portions of Louisiana.
High seas were in the forecast through Sunday. With the wind blowing from the south, the mess could reach Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by Monday.
The widening crisis began April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig owned by Transocean and leased by BP, caught fire and sank, killing 11 people. Ten days later, coastal residents, state officials and environmental groups began to question whether the oil industry and Interior Department regulators had done enough to prepare for such a catastrophic accident.
Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said in an interview Friday that the company's plans for responding to oil spills did not address the complete failure of equipment on the sea floor designed to prevent a blowout of the sort that took place on the massive drilling rig.
"We're breaking new ground here. It's hard to write a plan for a catastrophic event that has no precedent, which is what this was," Allen said, defending the company against not writing a response for "what could never be in a plan, what you couldn't anticipate."
Hammond Eve, who did environmental impact studies of offshore drilling for the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS), said the federal agency never planned for response to an oil spill of this size. "We never imagined that it would happen because the safety measures were supposed to work and prevent it from happening," he said.
He added that MMS began from the "premise that if something like this happened that it would be shut down fairly soon and a discrete amount of oil would be released and these clean-up measures would begin and you would never end up with a situation like this."
Obama administration officials fanned out across the Gulf of Mexico states pledging attention and assistance. In an already troubled economy, the oil slick threatened to damage the region's fishing, shrimping, oyster and tourism industries as well as disrupt shipping along the Mississippi River.
"I do have concerns that BP's current resources are not adequate to meet the ... challenges that we face," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a news conference in New Orleans. "I've urged them to seek even more help from the federal government and from others."
In Washington, President Barack Obama halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the disaster.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward said his company was doing everything it could. "We are determined to fight this spill on all fronts, in the deep waters of the Gulf, in the shallow waters and, should it be necessary, on the shore." He said the company welcomed offers of assistance from government agencies, other oil companies and even members of the public.
Some people said BP was too optimistic in its planning. In the exploration plan BP Exploration and Production Inc. submitted to the MMS for the lease on Feb. 23, 2009, the company expressed confidence it could handle a spill even larger than the one caused by the explosion at Deepwater Horizon.
The cause of the well explosion remains uncertain. Oil industry experts say that in deep-water wells such as this one, which was drilled in water 5,000 feet deep, high pressure increases the risks of a blowout. BP has pointed a finger at Transocean, which owned and operated the rig. Transocean has pointed at a company called Cameron, which made a key valve in the malfunctioning blowout preventer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.