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Obama to address spill in news conference

US President Barack Obama speaks at a fu
President Barack Obama speaks at a fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee May 25, 2010 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News and news services

President Barack Obama will hold a news conference at the White House on Thursday, a day before his second trip to the Gulf of Mexico region and amid growing criticism of the administration's response to the month-long oil spill.

The press conference will be the president's first since February.

"When this happens on your watch, then every day you are thinking how does this get solved," Obama told a Democratic fundraiser in California Tuesday night.

He also called the situation "heartbreaking."

Meantime, the oil company at the center of the storm, BP, is still running tests and expected to decide Wednesday morning if it will go ahead with an effort to choke off its oil gusher with a process known as a "top kill."

Chief Executive Tony Hayward said on NBC's TODAY that if he gives the green light, "it will be a day or two before we can have certainty that it's worked."

The top kill involves pumping enough mud into the gusher to overcome the flow of the well, which has leaked millions of gallons of oil into the water since an April 20 rig explosion. Engineers then plan to follow it up with cement that the company hopes will permanently seal the well.

On an Air Force One flight to California on Tuesday, Obama was updated on BP's plan in a phone call to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Chu gave Obama his technical and scientific assessment of the plan and what the next steps will be if the this attempt fails to stop the leak, the White House said.

Administration watching BP
Mindful of growing public criticism of its oil spill response, the government has sent its top scientists like Chu into the room with BP to supervise the top kill planning and the alternatives if it fails.

"We are not relying on BP, but we absolutely need their expertise," Carol Browner, Obama's adviser on energy and climate change, told CNN.

"We have our scientists in the room looking at what is being proposed, at what is the next step. And, obviously, these steps are taken only after we reach agreement," she added.

The White House pressure, however, coincides with a new government report that points to a "cozy relationship" between the oil industry and the agency meant to regulate it.

As the gloppy mousse-like oil oozes into critical wildlife habitats and fishing grounds, the U.S. government has few tools or technology to tackle the undersea well blow-out triggered by a rig explosion April 20 that killed 11 crew members.

Equipped with underwater robots, BP engineers plan on Wednesday to inject heavy drilling fluids into the mile-deep well, a complex maneuver known as "top kill" that has never been attempted before at such depths.

Before they try to seal the well, they pumped so-called "mud" into the well head on Tuesday to gauge if the well could be damaged at high pressure and augment the leak.

Polling trends
A CBS News poll released Tuesday showed 70 percent of Americans disapprove of BP's handling of the disaster, but 45 percent give the Obama administration a negative rating despite his administration's efforts to show it is on top of the crisis.

Obama cited the spill when he met Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and urged them to work with him to pass climate change legislation that aims to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and better protect the environment.

With oil and tar balls from the spill now soiling more than 70 miles of Louisiana's 400-mile coastline, the U.S. government has declared a "fishery disaster" in the waters off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, making those states eligible for special federal assistance.

Commercial fishing, shrimping and oyster harvests have been shut down for weeks along much of the U.S. Gulf Coast, home to a $6.5 billion seafood industry. Louisiana's industry alone accounts for up to 40 percent of the U.S. seafood supply and more than 27,000 jobs.

BP has estimated that about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) have been leaking every day, although some scientists have given much higher numbers for the size of the leak — up to 20 times more.