Obama: Oil spill 'an environmental 9/11'

US President Barack Obama walks with National Incident Commander US Coastguard Admiral Thad Allen at Gulfport Airport in Gulfport, Mississippi This is Mr Obama's fourth visit to the oil-affected area

US President Barack Obama has said the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will have the same impact on the US psyche as 9/11.

The disaster will "shape how we think about the environment... for years to come", he told US website Politico.

Mr Obama has arrived in Mississippi on his fourth visit to the affected area. He will also visit Alabama and Florida.

Directors of oil firm BP are meeting to decide whether to suspend dividends as company shares have taken a tumble.

BP saw its shares fall by some 9% in afternoon trading in London.

Earlier, BP said the cost of cleaning up the oil spillage had risen to $1.6bn (£1bn).

BP placed a containment cap on its damaged oil well earlier this month; by last week, it was collecting about 15,000 barrels of oil a day.

BBC special coverage graphic

This week, the BBC is assessing the impact of the Louisiana oil spill. Correspondents in the US, the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria and London will be reporting for the BBC World Service, World News TV and the BBC News website.

It is estimated that some 40,000 barrels (1.7 million gallons) of oil a day might have been gushing out before the well was capped.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama will address the US about the oil spill from the White House in a prime-time televised speech.

A presidential aide said he would outline the next steps his administration would be taking over the spill.

Mr Obama had previously visited Louisiana on three occasions. In his Monday visit, he is going to the other states affected by the crisis - Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

The right lessons

Mr Obama said the disaster would have a lasting impact on US environmental policy.

"In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come," he said in the Politico interview.

Mr Obama vowed to "move forward in a bold way in a direction that finally gives us the kind of future-oriented… visionary energy policy that we so vitally need and has been absent for so long".

"One of the biggest leadership challenges for me going forward is going to be to make sure that we draw the right lessons from this disaster," he said.

Mr Obama said he could not predict whether the nation would make a complete transition from an oil-based economy within his lifetime, but added that "now is the time for us to start making that transition and investing in a new way of doing business when it comes to energy".

"I have no idea what new energy sources are going to be available, what technologies might drive down the price of renewable energies," he said.

"What we can predict is that the availability of fossil fuel is going to be diminishing; that it's going to get more expensive to recover; that there are going to be environmental costs that our children… our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren are going to have to bear."

Attempt to cap oil leak

The latest stage in BP's efforts to contain leaking oil has involved lowering a cap onto the failed blowout preventer (BOP) valve system on the seabed. The cap sits on the BOP's lower marine riser package (LMRP) section.
First, the damaged riser - the pipe which takes oil from the well - was cut where it nears the seabed using a remotely-operated shear. This was completed at 1930 CDT on 1 June (0030 GMT 2 June).
The next stage was for a diamond wire cutter to saw through the riser close to the LMRP. The blade got stuck and had to be removed but BP eventually cut through the pipe using giant shears manipulated by undersea robots (ROV).
After removing the pipe, the cap was lowered onto the LMRP enabling the leaking oil and gas to be funnelled to a drill ship on the surface. Latest estimates suggest more than half of the leaking oil is now being captured.
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US Oil Spill

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Yahoo! UK and Ireland BP to defend spill as Obama pitches greener U.S. - 1 hr ago
CBS News Obama Seeks to Show Control of Oil Spill Crisis - 1 hr ago
Channel 4 News BP downgraded as Obama eyes green agenda - 3 hrs ago
Houston Chronicle White House: Obama ready to seize claims process - 4 hrs ago
Chicago Tribune White House: Obama poised to take claims processing away from BP unless it changes system - 5 hrs ago

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