[Updated at 6:23 p.m.] Companies involved in the sinking of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon made "some very major mistakes," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday after meeting with executives from the oil company BP.
Salazar would not elaborate, telling reporters the cause remains under investigation. But, he said, "from my own preliminary observations, there were some very major mistakes that were made by the companies that were involved."
The Coast Guard and the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service are leading the investigation into the loss of the drill rig, which was owned by BP contractor Transocean Ltd. The rig sank two days after an explosion set it afire, unleashing an undersea gusher of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and leaving 11 workers presumed dead.
[Updated at 12:27 p.m.] Two Coast Guard teams were scrambled to reset protective booms around Louisiana's Freemason Island after it was reported oil had reached there from the Gulf of Mexico. The area is located the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish. The amount of oil that reached shore was not immediately known.
Trace amounts of sheen from the undersea gusher have been reported to have reached the shores of southeastern Louisiana over the past week, but the landfall reported Thursday marks the first confirmation of oil hitting the shore, said John Curry, a spokesman for well owner BP.
[Updated at 12:11 p.m.] A patch of oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been found on Louisiana's Freemason Island Thursday, the Coast Guard reported.
[Updated at 10:49 a.m.] BP will attempt to lower the container onto a ruptured deep-water pipe later in the day, spokesman Mark Salt said.
"If all goes according to plan, we should begin the process of processing the fluid and stop the spilling to the sea on Monday," said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer.
But he added: "It's very complex, and it will likely have challenges along the way."
The hope is that the container will collect the leaking oil, which would be sucked up to a drill ship on the surface. If the operation is successful, BP plans to deploy a second, smaller dome to deal with a second leak in the ruptured pipe, the company has said.
Getting the large structure into position could take several days, BP has noted. The technique has never been attempted at the depth of about 5,000 feet underwater, according to Suttles.
[Updated at 9:30 a.m.] A four-story container has arrived at a spot in the Gulf Coast that is about 5,000 feet above a massive oil spill on the seabed, a spokesman for BP, Mark Salt, said Thursday.
BP plans to lower the container into the water later Thursday, he said.
[Updated at 7:49 a.m.] The Gulf oil spill is going to cost billions to clean up, a tab BP has publicly pledged to pay in full.
But thanks to the unpredictable nature of the oil slick and the legal maze surrounding maritime law, what BP will pay and to whom is very much an open question. Start with the costs. Estimates to clean the spill and compensate other parties for the economic damage run from $2 billion to $14 billion. One politician even said it could run into the hundreds of billions.The truth is that no one has any idea yet.
The spill, which the Coast Guard says is still leaking oil at a rate of roughly 200,000 gallons a day, could stay near the coast of Louisiana, as it's doing now. It hasn't had much of an impact on the shoreline so far, and the dispersants being sprayed on it appear to be helping to keep it at sea. If the containment device BP is preparing to put over the leak in the next few days works, or if the company can activate the broken valve that would shut off the well, the costs would be comparatively minimal. Say, a billion or two.
If the leak worsens, as company officials say it could, and the oil gets caught up in Gulf currents that bring it around Florida's beaches and up the East Coast, then things get very grim. Fishing grounds and beaches would be polluted. That spikes the cleanup cost and cuts into the revenue of thousands of other businesses.
"It's really bad when people start throwing around numbers," said Fadel Gheit, a senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer. "It almost paralyzes the people working on this into inaction." Read full CNNMoney.com story on the cost