US president Barack Obama served notice yesterday that if an independent investigation into the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico finds that laws were broken then “we will bring those responsible to justice”.
The share price of BP dropped by another dizzying 13% yesterday, causing alarm far beyond the oil industry.
Mr Obama’s statement, made in the Rose Garden alongside the heads of the investigative commission he established last week, was another ominous turn for BP as it struggles to find a way to plug the catastrophic leak.
It underscored how quickly Mr Obama is now distancing himself from the London-based energy giant even as the federal government continues to rely upon its technical expertise to bring the well under control.
It is thought that as much as 19,000 barrels of oil are now spewing from the ruptured well daily. There were fresh warnings last night that south-westerly breezes in the Gulf threaten to bring heavy parts of the slick to the shores of Mississippi and Alabama by week's end. Florida is also braced for possible damage to its beaches.
The panel created by Mr Obama to probe the leak is being led by former Senator Bob Graham and the ex-head of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Reilly. “They have my full support to follow the facts wherever they lead, without fear or favour,” Mr Obama said, adopting an unusually assertive tone.
“If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice.”
The beleaguered BP group's shares collapsed after efforts to plug the leak with a “top kill” of ultra-heavy drilling failed and BP admitted the catastrophe has cost it $990m (£674m) so far.
BP has now seen £42bn wiped off its value since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April killed 11 people and unleashed the biggest oil slick in US
history. Yesterday BP engineers were manoeuvring robots 5,000ft down on the sea floor in yet another scheme to shut off the well.
The latest plan is to saw off the top of the leaking pipe from the broken “blow-out preventer” on the top of the well.