The head of the Coast Guard, acting on stern orders from President Bush, has given Exxon until Saturday to produce a cleanup plan for the nation's largest oil spill.
As the remainder of the oil slick from the Exxon Valdez continued to break up, attention turned to the long task of cleaning up Prince William Sound, one of the world's most untarnished waterways until the supertanker ran aground.Coast Guard Commandant Paul Yost set the deadline for the oil company's cleanup plan, including details on the number of workers, equipment and logistics, after he arrived Thursday to take charge of the operation.
But he described the magnitude of the 10.1 million-gallon spill as overwhelming.
"There's not a contingency plan, whether it's San Francisco Bay, whether it's New York Harbor, whether it's Puget Sound, there's not a contingency plan that exists that would have addressed a spill of 10 million gallons," Yost said.
The Coast Guard has been given final authority over the cleanup of the oil that poured from the tanker, which veered sharply out of shipping lanes March 24 and slammed into a treacherous reef.
Yost said President Bush sent him "to take personal oversight of the coordination of this cleanup that Exxon's doing."
"Things are getting better, and we're going to do everything we can to expedite the cleanup," Yost said after flying over the area.
Yost said he considers his relationship with the oil company to be adversarial.
"I have some marching orders from the president of the United States and it means it is not a happy or cozy relationship with Exxon," he said.
Exxon's failure to produce a plan has angered state officials, who earlier requested a Coast Guard takeover of the cleanup. State environmental chief Dennis Kelso said Thursday he still had not received such a plan, even though he requested one weeks ago.
Jan Cool, an Exxon spokeswoman, said the company had no comments on Admiral Yost's statements.
Thousands of sea birds and mammals have already died in the oily muck that washed up on beaches following the spill. There are also fears of the oil's impact on the rich fisheries of the sound.
Splotchy remainders of the spill, some no bigger than a table top, meandered west of Gore Point and the edge of the Chugach Islands on the edge of Cook Inlet on Thursday.
But officials' attention turned to the oiled beaches where damage was the greatest.
Kelso said the state has identified 3,000 separate cleanup areas on islands in the sound. He said 44 of those sites are now ready for cleanup crews.
Cleanup crews were at some of the beaches on Thursday, shoveling up oil, scraping rocks and using low-pressure water hoses to flush the oil back into the water where it was trapped and recovered.
Exxon-paid cleanup workers have filled hundreds of bags a day with thick crude oil and gravel on Naked Island.
Exxon to fund study
Under an agreement between Exxon Corp. and four government agencies, the oil company has agreed to pay $15 million to state and federal agencies to determine the damage costs in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The agreement requires Exxon to turn over $8.5 million by Monday and turn over the rest when it is needed, said Hal Alabaster, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Exxon's promise to turn over $15 million just to assess the likely damage costs and expenses does not release Exxon from any potential future liability.