updated 7/4/2010 3:15:22 PM ET 2010-07-04T19:15:22

The Obama administration is expected to take over control of the central information website on the Gulf oil spill response that has been run jointly by various agencies and BP for the 2½ months since the rig explosion.

The Department of Homeland Security wants a one-stop shop for information that is completely overseen by the government as it settles into the long-haul of dealing with the response to the disaster. The U.S. Coast Guard falls under Homeland Security's authority.

BP and the federal government are part of a unified command that is working together to try to contain the oil gusher, but the government has been directing BP at every turn.

A DHS spokesman told The Associated Press on Sunday that the joint relationship won't change when the website is given a .gov address instead of a .com address.

But who can post information to the site would change. Details are still being worked out.

The spokesman, Sean Smith, said the government wants to be as transparent as possible and increase Americans' access to information.

BP is helping pay for the current website. The government could still bill BP when it takes over the site.

The deepwaterhorizonresponse.com site may still be maintained during the changeover, but ultimately it will be taken down altogether when the government moves the response information to its own website.

A BP spokesman did not immediately respond to several requests for comment on the move, which could occur within days.

A frequent critic of the administration's response to the oil spill, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was skeptical the change would amount to much.

"Given that the government taking over the cleanup hasn't exactly fixed things, it's hard to imagine the government taking over a website making things much better either," Issa, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.

"In recent weeks, we've heard directly from local officials pleading for less bureaucracy, more resources and expressing an overall frustration with this administration's apparent pre-occupation with the public relations surrounding this catastrophe," he said.

Rough weather still along coast
Along the Gulf, meanwhile, cleanup crews surveyed damage done by last week's hurricane while contending Sunday with choppy seas that idled many of the boats dedicated to keeping oil from hitting vulnerable beaches and marshes.

Offshore skimming vessels were able to operate in Louisiana waters, but not off the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, officials said.

"We've got our guys out there and they're docked and ready, but safety is a huge concern for us, especially with the smaller vessels," said Courtnee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Joint Information Command in Mobile, Ala.

The offshore skimming in those states has essentially been curtailed for nearly a week, thanks to weather generated earlier by Hurricane Alex, even though it was never closer than 500 miles or so to the spill.

On Sunday, huge barges used to collect oil from skimming vessels were parked at the mouth of Mobile Bay, waiting for conditions to subside as waves rose to about 5 feet high miles offshore.

The current spate of bad weather is likely to last well into next week, according to the National Weather Service.

"This should remain fairly persistent through the next few days, and maybe get a little worse," meteorologist Mike Efferson said.

On the shore, beach cleanup crews were making progress on new oil that washed up thanks to the high tides generated by last week's bad weather.

800 removing tar balls along beach
In Grand Isle, about 800 people were removing tar balls and liquid oil from seven miles of beach, Coast Guard Cmdr. Randal Ogrydziak said.

"In a day or two, you wouldn't be able to tell the oil was even there," he said.

By Wednesday, Ogrydziak said they should have a machine on the beach that washes sand where the oil washed ashore.

Crews have also been working to put containment boom thrown around by the storms back into place, he said.

Along the Louisiana coast, skimmers that were able to operate included the giant converted oil tanker known as A Whale.

Taiwanese shipping firm TMT, which owns the vessel, calls it the world's largest oil skimmer. Sunday was the second day of testing the ship's abilities for U.S. Coast Guard and BP officials who will make a decision about whether to put it — and its purported capacity to suck up 21 million gallons of oil-tainted water per day — to work in the Gulf.

But even the giant vessel is having trouble with the weather, TMT spokesman Bob Grantham said in an e-mail Sunday.

"As was the case yesterday, the sea state, with waves at times in excess of ten feet, is not permitting optimal testing conditions," he said.

Story: Oil-eating Whale or ‘white elephant’?

The vessel's crew is hoping for calmer conditions, so they can test its skimming ability with a containment boom system designed to direct greater amounts of oily water to the ship's intake vents.

A decision on whether the ship can be used to help scour the crude from the Gulf will be made in a few days, Grantham said.

So far, weather has not slowed drilling on two relief wells that could be the best hope of finally plugging what has become the worst oil leak in Gulf history. BP officials have said they're running slightly ahead of schedule on the drilling, but expect weather or other delays.

Early to mid-August is still the timeframe for the completion of the drilling.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Report: Gulf swimmers complain of illness

  1. Closed captioning of: Report: Gulf swimmers complain of illness

    >>> to the gulf and the fallout from the ongoing oil disaster. the big question from tourists, is the water safe for swimmers? one pensacola beach official seems to think so but he doesn't have everyone convinced. the local island authority director of pensacola beach ordered beaches back open after the oil spill closed them for just two days. health officials told him not to do it. a week later beachgoers claim they are sick, after visiting the area. joining us live by phone, patrick johnson , staff writer for the christian staff monitor. patrick wrote an article about the illnesses. let get to the article in which you say federal health officials wanted the beach to remain closed. a local official reopened it. what, like, 400 people visited it and got sick? what symptoms do they have?

    >> headaches to nausea, itchy eyes and respiratory problems. it's not clear if all of the people went swimming or if was air quality impact, too. when -- i'm not there now but i was there a few days ago. when that spill came ashore and they closed the beach, there was no discernible oedser. it was amazing at the time to see the beach completely clean in the evening and completely full of oil the next day. and hthen for them to open continue up.

    >> people woke up to having horrific, pools of oil and globs. it was terrible to look at. look, we know that a lot of these beaches have lost a lot of money and revenue once beaches had to close. 65 million, in fact, totalling in florida according to your report thus far. that's why the official, buckley, his name, decided to reopen the pensacola beach . how much pressure is there to get revenue going and give people an opportunity to come back to the beaches?

    >> before this, you know, cancellations are high there, as far as hotels and condos and everything else. it's an economic disaster for them. you know, the advertising campaigns, there have been you know the gulf looks inward to try to point out there's plenty of things going on in the gulf beside the water. the water is why people come. when i talked to tourism experts, it's, you know, just a little bit of doubt in somebody's mind, it could affect their decision to go. it's an economic disaster for them. and there is a lot of pressure from business owners to not close the beaches for swimming, if you don't have to. the question is, is it harmful, you know? there are a, if there's no visible oil and going on visible sightings, is it harmful? there are disperses petrochemicals to some, you know, to some extent there. but the health effects aren't quite known.

    >> you also write about how the quality tests are useless right now in terms of gauging what the health effect will be. so the advice from officials, whether federal or local, or otherwise, you have to stay out of the water entirely? do you have you to avoid the beach at all costs?

    >> i wouldn't say avoid the beach because you can still go out there. you know, federal officials urge them to keep -- to keep the water closed, at least. but you know, as you mentioned, the problem is they do a test, three days before the get the results back and the place where they tested could be full of oil at that point. that's why it's useless. so you know, basically they're urging people to use their common sense, if you're sensitive to chemicals, don't go in the water. but you know, it does seem to affect different people, different ways. the governor, charlie crist , went swimming and said he's fine.

Photos: A Whale of a vessel

loading photos...
  1. The A Whale, billed as the world's largest oil skimming vessel, is seen anchored on the Mississippi River in Boothville, La., Wednesday, June 30. The ship is the length of 3 1/2 football fields and 10 stories high. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A Whale Technical Manager Amitabh Rastogi looks through one of 12 vents -- or "jaws" -- designed to act as intake valves. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Workers demonstrate pump controls in the A Whale's cargo control room. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The view of the deck from the A Whale's bridge. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Large ports enable the crew to circulate oily water -- or any liquid -- through various storage tanks on the A Whale. In the case of the oily water, the ship's owners hope the "decanting" process will separate much of the oil from the water. (Bob Pearson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A river pilot approaches the port side of the A Whale. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments