Gulf life will return to normal, Obama vows

Life in the Gulf of Mexico will return to normal, U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed, despite the millions of litres of oil that have seeped into the water since a drilling rig exploded and sank.

U.S. president expected to demand BP set up major compensation fund

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley walk past oil containment booms being cleaned during a tour of a staging facility in Theodore, Ala., on Monday. ((Charles Dharapak/Associated Press))

Life in the Gulf of Mexico will return to normal, U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed, despite the millions of litres of oil that have seeped into the water since a drilling rig exploded and sank 56 days ago.

Although life in the region will be "painful" for a while, the area "will bounce back," Obama said in remarks delivered in Theodore, Ala., Monday afternoon.

"I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before," he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks on the BP oil spill with U.S. Coast Guard Commander Admiral Thad Allen at the Theodore Staging Facility in Theodore, Ala., on Monday. ((Jim Young/Reuters))
The government will step up inspections and monitoring to help ensure the Gulf Coast food industry gets the protection and certification it needs to sell its products around the country, said Obama, who is in the region for a two-day trip.

"We don't want tragedies on top of the tragedy we're already seeing," he said.

Obama arrived in Gulfport, Miss., shortly before 11:30 a.m. ET for his fourth visit to the area. He met immediately with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Thad Allen, the U.S. Coast Guard admiral leading the oil cleanup. They discussed how to improve communication in order to co-ordinate those efforts effectively.

Claims fund

They also discussed compensation claims and making sure people throughout the Gulf region "are going to be adequately compensated for the damages and the losses that they are experiencing right now," Obama told reporters after the meeting.

Obama is expected to demand that BP establish a major victims' compensation fund when he meets with company chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and other BP officials on Wednesday.

"There are still problems with [the claims]," he said. "So, we're gathering up facts [and] stories right now so that we have an absolutely clear understanding about how we can best present to BP the need to make sure that individuals and businesses are dealt with in a fair manner and in a prompt manner."

Later, Obama travelled by ferry from Dauphin Island, Ala., to Fort Morgan, Ala., to view the oil's effects on barrier islands. Obama had not taken to the water in his previous Gulf visits.

Equipment shortages

Elsewhere in Alabama, insufficient supplies of government-required protective gear and cleaning equipment have sidelined cleanup workers.

Cleanup workers hired by BP wear protective boots and gloves as they walk along the beach looking for clumps of sandy oil that washed up on Dauphin Island, Ala., on June 3. ((Dave Martin/Associated Press))
On one beach, workers sat idly as countless tar balls washed ashore because they didn't have the proper elastic covers to protect their shoes. Another crew spent hours cleaning a long stretch of sand with shovels and garden rakes, when a machine could have done the job in minutes.

BP says it's doing all it can to keep supplies stocked and has had to turn to foreign companies for help.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Erik Halvorson, a spokesman for the unified area command overseeing the spill response, said shortages haven't caused any major slowdowns in the cleanup and large orders have been placed in advance when needs are anticipated.

"I believe that any response work delays … are localized and short term, not widespread," he said.

Skimming intensifies

Crews are preparing to move to 24-hour cleanup and skimming operations to remove the heavy oil that has started washing ashore in three areas of Alabama: Orange Beach, Gulf State Park and Bon Secour.

Workers check an oil skimmer containing oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in Bay Jimmy near Venice, La., on Friday. ((Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press))
The number of skimmers in the Gulf has quadrupled in recent days to more than 400, including new equipment to speed up the job. "Current Buster" skimmers can be towed at higher speeds than conventional booms and are ideally suited to high seas and ocean currents. The "Big Gulp" is a barge that has been converted into a large-capacity skimmer.

The president is expected to address the catastrophe in a televised address from the Oval Office on Tuesday evening.

BP said Monday that the cost of the cleanup has risen to $1.6 billion US.

A U.S. government-created task force, the Flow Rate Technical Group, on Thursday doubled its estimate of the amount of oil leaking from the well, to between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels a day, before a cap was installed on June 3.

With files from The Associated Press