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AP FACT CHECK: Obama Left Blanks In Oil Spill Speech

EDITOR'S NOTE - An occasional look at assertions by publicofficials and how well they adhere to the facts.

In assuring Americans that BP won't controlthe compensation fund for Gulf oil spill recovery, President BarackObama failed to mention that the government won't control it,either.

That means it's anyone's guess whether the government can, infact, make BP pay all costs related to the spill.

Obama aimed high in his prime-time Oval Office address Tuesdaynight - perhaps higher than the facts support and history teaches -as he vowed to restore livelihoods and nature from thestill-unfolding calamity in the Gulf of Mexico.

A look at some of his statements and how they compare with thosefacts:

OBAMA: "We will make BP pay for the damage their company hascaused and we will do whatever's necessary to help the Gulf Coastand its people recover from this tragedy. ... Tomorrow, I will meetwith the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set asidewhatever resources are required to compensate the workers andbusiness owners who have been harmed as a result of his company'srecklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In orderto ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair andtimely manner, the account must and will be administered by anindependent, third party."

THE FACTS: An independent arbiter is no more bound to thegovernment's wishes than an oil company's. In that sense, there isno certainty BP will be forced to make the Gulf economy whole againor that taxpayers are off the hook for the myriad costs associatedwith the spill or cleanup. The government can certainly press forthat, using legislative and legal tools. But there are noguarantees and the past is not reassuring.

It took 20 years to sort through liability after the ExxonValdez oil spill in Alaska, and in the end, punitive damages wereslashed by the courts to about $500 million from $2.5 billion. Manypeople who had lost their livelihoods in the spill died withoutever seeing a check.

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OBAMA: "In the coming days and weeks, these efforts shouldcapture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well."

THE FACTS: BP and the administration contend that if all goes asplanned, they should be able to contain nearly 90 percent of theworst-case oil flow. But that's a big "if." So far, little hasgone as planned in the various remedies attempted to shut off orcontain the flow. Possibly as much as 60,000 barrels a day isescaping. BP would need to nearly triple its recovery rate to reachthe target.

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OBAMA: Temporary measures will capture leaking oil "until thecompany finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that isexpected to stop the leak completely."

THE FACTS: That's the hope, but experts say the relief well runsthe same risks that caused the original well to blow out. Itpotentially could create a worse spill if engineers were toaccidentally damage the existing well or tear a hole in theundersea oil reservoir.

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OBAMA: "From the very beginning of this crisis, the federalgovernment has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanupeffort in our nation's history."

THE FACTS: Early on, the government established a command centerand put Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen in charge of coordinating theoverall spill response. But officials also repeatedly haveemphasized that BP was "responsible" and they have relied heavilyon BP in making decisions from hiring cleanup workers to what oildispersing chemicals to use. Local officials in the Gulf regionhave complained that often they don't know who's in charge - thegovernment or BP.

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OBAMA: "We have approved the construction of new barrierislands in Louisiana to try and stop the oil before it reaches theshore."

THE FACTS: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and local officialspleaded for weeks with the Army Corps of Engineers and the spillresponse command for permission to build about 40 miles of sandberms along the barrier islands.

State officials applied for an emergency permit to build theberms May 11, but as days went by Jindal became increasingly angryat federal inaction. The White House finally agreed to a portion ofthe berm plan on June 2. BP then agreed to pay for the project.

The corps was worried that in some cases such a move would altertides and drive oil into new areas and produce more harm than good.

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OBAMA: "Already, I have issued a six-month moratorium ondeepwater drilling. I know this creates difficulty for the peoplewho work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety and forthe sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before weallow deepwater drilling to continue."

THE FACTS: Obama issued a six-month moratorium on new permitsfor deepwater drilling but production continues from existingdeepwater wells.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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