BP says it will pay victims

Kyle Currie and Olivia Martina, a zoologist, attempt to capture a northern gannet that was stricken and sitting on the beach at Ship Island off the coast of Gulfport, Miss.

Rick Loomis

VENICE, La. -- BP PLC gave some assurance Monday to shrimpers, oil workers and scores of others that they will be paid for damage and injuries from the explosion of a drilling rig and the resulting massive oil spill in the Gulf.

A fact sheet on the company website states that BP takes responsibility for cleaning up the spill and will pay compensation for "legitimate and objectively verifiable" claims for property damage, personal injury and commercial losses. President Barack Obama and several attorneys general have asked the company to explain exactly what that means.

BP spokesman David Nicholas said the company doesn't know how much the cleanup will cost and hasn't decided how to pay for it.

People like Dana Powell, manager of the Paradise Inn in Pensacola Beach, Fla., have feared what will happen to the Gulf Coast's staple industries such as tourism and commercial fishing.

"Now when there's a hurricane, we know it's going to level things, devastate things, be a huge mess and it's going to take several years to clean up," she said. "But this? It's going to kill the wildlife, it's going to kill lifestyles -- the shrimpers, the fishermen, tourism. Who's going to come to an oil-covered beach?"

In the Chandeleur Sound on Monday, about 40 miles northeast of Venice, thick, heavy oil was slicked in long clumps that looked like raw sewage. Several sick and dying jellyfish could be seen in the water.

"This rain is mother ocean crying because of all this oil in her," charter boat captain Bob Kenney said. "This is what makes me cry."

Numerous dead turtles, fish and other wildlife have washed up on Gulf shores, though authorities have not yet confirmed that any of the animals died because of the spill. Procter & Gamble Co. says it has rushed 1,000 bottles of Dawn dish-washing liquid to the region to help clean any wildlife soiled by oil.

BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward said Monday that the equipment that failed and led to the spill belonged to owner Transocean Ltd., not BP, which operated the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Guy Cantwell, a Transocean spokesman, responded by saying the company was waiting for all the facts before drawing conclusions.

A board investigating the explosion and oil leak plans to hold its first public hearing in roughly two weeks. The cause of the April 20 explosion, which killed 11 workers, has not been determined.

Meanwhile, BP officials are waiting for results on how effective it was using underwater robots, which are supposed to break down the oil and keep it from reaching the surface, to shoot chemicals directly into the leaking well, .

The update on the dispersants came as BP was preparing a system never tried to siphon away the spill of crude from a blown-out well a mile underwater. However, it will take at least an additional six days before crews can lower 74-ton concrete-and-metal boxes being built to capture the oil and siphon it to a barge waiting at the surface. The first of the boxes will be loaded onto a barge today to be taken to the well site.

That delay could allow at least an additional million gallons to spill into the Gulf, on top of the roughly 2.6 million or more that has spilled since the April 20 blast. Those numbers are based on the Coast Guard's estimates that 200,000 gallons a day are spilling out, though officials have cautioned it's impossible to know exactly how much is leaking.

By comparison, the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons off the Alaska coast in 1989.

Bad weather forced authorities to temporarily halt skimming oil by ship and dropping dispersants by air, although Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production, said skimming may resume today.

Everything engineers have tried so far has failed to stop the leak. After the explosion, the flow of oil should have been stopped by a blowout preventer, but the mechanism failed. Efforts to remotely activate it have proven fruitless.

BP has started drilling a second well to relieve pressure on the first, but oil could keep gushing for two to three months before it's finished.

The drill will burrow down about 18,000 feet and inject heavy drilling fluid and then cement to stop the flow of oil, Suttles said at a news conference Monday.