Image: Dale Scheidemantle, center, and his children Josiah, left, and Faith walk near the oily surf in Orange Beach, Ala.
Dave Martin  /  AP
Dale Scheidemantle, center, and his children Josiah, left, and Faith walk near the oily surf in Orange Beach, Ala., Saturday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/12/2010 10:01:16 PM ET 2010-06-13T02:01:16

The Coast Guard has demanded that BP step up its efforts to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the weekend, telling the British oil giant that its slow pace in stopping the spill is becoming increasingly alarming.

The Coast Guard sent a testy letter to BP's chief operating officer that said the company urgently needs to pick up the pace and present a better plan to contain the spill by the time President Barack Obama arrives on Monday for his fourth visit to the beleaguered coast. The letter, released Saturday, reflects the administration's growing unease over the company's inability to stop the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

"Recognizing the complexity of this challenge, every effort must be expended to speed up the process," Coast Guard Rear Adm. James A. Watson wrote in the letter sent to Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer.

Also Saturday, Obama reassured Prime Minister David Cameron in a phone call that his vocal frustration over the oil spill is not an attack on Britain, where BP is based.

The petroleum giant has struggled with several efforts to contain the oil. The latest cap installed on the blown-out well is capturing about 650,000 gallons of oil a day, BP says, but large quantities are still spilling into the sea.

Scientists have estimated that anywhere between about 40 million gallons to 109 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf since a drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The Coast Guard initially sent a letter to BP on Wednesday asking for more details on its plans to contain the oil. BP responded, saying a new system to trap much more oil should be complete by mid-July. That system's new design is meant to better withstand the force of hurricanes and could capture about 2 million gallons of oil daily when finished, the company said.

But Watson said in a follow-up letter Friday he was concerned that BP's plans were inadequate, especially in light of revised estimates this week that indicated the size of the spill could be up to twice as large as previously thought.

"BP must identify in the next 48 hours additional leak containment capacity that could be operationalized and expedited to avoid the continued discharge of oil," Watson said in the letter.

Suttles said BP will respond to the letter by Sunday night.

"We've got a team of people looking to see, can we accelerate some of the items that are in that plan and is it possible to do more," Suttles said in a brief interview after speaking to workers at a command center where he thanked BP employees and contractors for their work in cleaning up the spill. "There are some real challenges to do that, including safety."

Suttles also acknowledged that "there's big frustrations out there. They're out there in the community, they're out there in government, they're out there everywhere. And I think they're all rooted in the fact that none of us want this to happen. And none of us want this to occur, and we all want it to get fixed now."

Obama, Cameron talk spill
The letter and deadline come just before Obama is set to visit the Gulf Coast on Monday and Tuesday. On Saturday, Obama reassured British Prime Minister David Cameron that his frustration over the oil spill in the Gulf was not an attack on Britain.

Video: Obama: BP criticisms not 'anti-British' Cameron is under pressure from Britons to get Obama to tone down the criticism for fear it will hurt the millions of British retirees that hold BP stock, which has taken a beating.

Cameron's office said the prime minister told Obama of his sadness at the disaster, while Obama said he recognized that BP was a multinational company."

"President Obama said to the prime minister that his unequivocal view was that BP was a multinational global company and that frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity," Cameron's office said in a statement.

"The prime minister stressed the economic importance of BP to the U.K., U.S. and other countries. The president made clear that he had no interest in undermining BP's value," it added.

Obama also told Cameron BP must pay "tens of thousands" of economic claims for the spill, an Obama administration official said.

"(Obama) said BP must meet its obligations to those whose lives have been disrupted and we will insist everything be done to cap the well, capture the oil, and pay for the cleanup, the environmental damage done and the tens of thousands of economic claims as a result of this disaster," the official said.

BP is hard at work trying to find new ways to capture more oil, but officials say the only way to permanently stop the spill is a relief well that will drill sideways into the broken well and plug it with cement.

Right now, a containment cap sitting over a well pipe is siphoning off around 653,100 gallons of oil to a ship the ocean surface. That oil is then unloaded to tankers and taken ashore.

To boost its capacity, BP also plans to trap oil using lines that earlier shot heavy drilling mud deep into the well during a failed attempt to stop the flow. This time, those lines will work in reverse. Oil and gas from the well will flow up to a semi-submersible drilling rig where it will be burned in a specialized boom that BP estimates can vaporize a maximum 420,000 gallons of oil daily. Another ship should be in place by mid-July to process even more oil.

Soiled sand
Meanwhile, waves of unsightly brown surf hit the Alabama shores in Orange Beach on Saturday, leaving stinking, dark piles of oil that dried in the hot sun and extended up to 12 feet from the water's edge for as far as the eye could see.

It was the worst hit yet to Alabama beaches. Tar-like globs have washed up periodically throughout the disaster, but Saturday's pollution was significantly worse.

Video: Much oil, few cleanup crews, hit Ala. beaches "This is awful," said Shelley Booker of Shreveport, La., who was staying in a condominium with her teenage daughter and her friends near the deserted beach about 100 miles from the site of the spill.

Gulf states affected by the disaster are putting the squeeze on BP, seeking to protect their interests amid talk of the possibility that BP may eventually file for bankruptcy.

The attorney general in Florida and the state treasurer in Louisiana want BP to put a total of $7.5 billion in escrow accounts to compensate the states and their residents for damages now and in the future. Alabama doesn't plan to take such action, while Mississippi and Texas haven't said what they will do.

As of the end of March, BP had only $6.8 billion in cash and cash equivalents available.

A piece of wreckage from the deepsea rig that exploded has washed up on a beach in Florida about 190 miles from the site of the disaster.

Bay County Sheriff Deputy Ray Maulbeck was working beach patrol Saturday morning when he came upon the stainless steel tank that had some oil oozing from it, along with barnacles and sea growth attached to it. The Coast Guard and state environmental officials were called in to investigate, and they took the piece away.

Maulbeck said the part had markings that identified it as having come from the Deepwater Horizon rig.

This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.

Video: Coast Guard orders BP to pick up pace

  1. Transcript of: Coast Guard orders BP to pick up pace

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: pressure tonight to make more progress more quickly in stopping the gush of oil into the gulf. The Coast Guard has ordered BP to come up with a way to capture more of the oil than it is currently capturing and to do it soon. NBC 's Tom Costello joins us now from Venice , Louisiana . Tom , good evening.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Hi there, Lester . BP says it already has a plan in place to get more oil by the end of next week, even more by mid-July. But clearly the Coast Guard is becoming frustrated that BP hasn't picked up the pace. Twenty miles out into the gulf, Louisiana is making a stand to protect its wetlands, National Guard helicopters dropping more than 6,000 bags, each filled with 2,000 pounds of sand, to close a series of gaps between two islands and keep oil from flowing towards the coast.

    Governor BOBBY JINDAL: We want to fight this oil outside of our coast, away from our wetlands, away from the shrimping grounds, away from the oysters, the crabs, the fish. We want to fight it out here.

    COSTELLO: With oil expected to continue pouring out of the BP well at 20, 40, perhaps 50,000 barrels a day, the Coast Guard has told BP it must identify ways to contain and siphon more than the 16,000 barrels a day it's currently collecting. In a letter sent to BP on Friday, Rear Admiral James Watson writes, " BP must identify in the next 48 hours additional leak containment capacity." Some of Louisiana 's youngest simply want BP to clean up its mess. Eleven-year-old River Reeland sees the disaster through the eyes of a pelican.

    Mr. RIVER REELAND: I try to put my life in theirs and see what could happen. They must have -- that must be horrible for them.

    COSTELLO: For many people who live along the coast, frustration that cleaning up the biggest oil disaster in US history is still mostly about shovels, booms and skimmers. This is an example of what's upsetting to many of the locals. These booms are meant to protect this island full of pelicans, and yet the oily, saturated booms haven't yet been picked up. And across the other side of the island some booms have actually washed ashore, right into the vegetation. Thirty-four -year-old Thomas Peters has been on these waters since he was a baby. The disaster, he says, is harder than rebuilding his life after Katrina .

    Mr. THOMAS PETERS: I can't personally clean up this oil, you know. I can personally rebuild a house. But it's just sad.

    COSTELLO: And unfortunately the oil keeps on coming. President Obama will be in this region on Monday, and then later in the week he'll be meeting with the CEO of BP and the chairman of BP , that meeting coming after President Obama took some heat for having not even spoken to

    either man on the phone. Lester: Tom Costello in Venice tonight.

    HOLT:

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