WASHINGTON — The U.S. official leading the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill said Sunday that only BP had the expertise to plug the hole in its deepwater well and that he trusted the oil company was doing its best.
The comments by Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, signaled that the U.S. government wouldn't take a larger role in stopping the five-week-old spill even as frustration along the Gulf Coast grows over the Obama administration's policy of letting BP run the effort.
While officials in Louisiana readied for an expansive oil slick to make landfall on Grand Isle, a major tourist hub, BP officials said they would deploy late Tuesday or before dawn Wednesday their latest attempt to stop the spill — a complex "top kill" maneuver that involves pumping the hole full of mud and cement.
"They have the eyes and ears that are down there. They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved," Allen said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "Our responsibility is to conduct proper oversight to make sure they do that."
At the same time, the Justice Department has sent officials to the Gulf to look into the spill, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, without elaborating if criminal charges would be filed against BP or the other private companies that were working on the Deepwater Horizon oilrig when it exploded April 20.
"I don't think anybody could credibly say, even as frustrated as they are and as frustrated as we are, that the government has stood around, done nothing, and hoped for the best," Gibbs said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Late last week the Obama administration appeared to be opening some distance between itself and BP. It appointed two outspoken environmentalists — former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former Environmental Protection Agency head William K. Reilly — to head a presidential commission to investigate the disaster.
The government also created an independent panel of experts to study undersea video footage from BP to determine how much oil was flowing into the water, but it didn't include a representative from BP. Scientists have accused the oil company of blocking efforts to determine the flow rate, in part to limit its liability for environmental damage.
BP's managing director, Bob Dudley, told CNN that the company has been as transparent as possible.
"I've used the analogy that it is a little bit like popping a soda can rushing out with lots of gas and oil. There's lots of gas in this crude," Dudley said. "The rate is unclear."
Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor, said the disaster hadn't changed her gung-ho view of domestic oil drilling. More emphasis should be placed on onshore oil deposits such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, she said.
"Let us drill there where it is even safer than way offshore," she told "Fox News Sunday."