As oil drifts closer to the Florida coast, BP and the federal government said today that their seventh attempt to contain the leak in the Gulf of Mexico had hit a snag, leaving crude gushing into the ocean faster than ever before.
The diamond-studded saw making a second cut into the pipe on the ocean floor was stuck for much of the day, though undersea robots were able to free it late this afternoon. The giant saw will be hauled to the surface for inspection.
"Anybody that's ever used a saw knows that every once in a while, it'll bind up," Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said at a press conference.
Officials said they hoped they could complete the cut late in the evening. Once the cut is finished, they will lower a containment dome over the pipe to start siphoning the oil to tankers on the surface, but that process could take several more days.
A squad of 18 undersea robots is working to complete the job. Each robot weighs 6,000 pounds and costs $6 million, and precision is important -- the neater the cut, the less oil will seep out from the sides once a containment dome is in place.
Oil Moves Near Florida
In the meantime, the oil poured out at an estimated rate of 800,000 gallons per day, 20 percent faster than before BP started its latest strategy.
The oil, which has already polluted 125 miles of the Louisiana coast, now appears to be moving further eastward. Oil has been sighted for the first time on barrier islands in Mississippi and Alabama, and Florida's governor said it's headed his way.
"Unfortunately, we're beginning to see some of this oil, the leading edge of this oil, head towards Florida," said Gov. Charlie Christ, who called on the federal government to extend emergency unemployment pay for Florida's commercial fishermen.
Obama Calls for Changes to Oil Industry Tax Breaks
In Washington, President Obama argued today that the Gulf oil spill is reason to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies and use the money to support clean energy development.
"We have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the earth," said Obama, who was arguing for more offshore drilling just months ago.
Today, he said that offshore drilling will still be necessary but it should be "used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy."
Outrage Directed at BP CEO Hayward
Along the Gulf Coast, outrage is mounting over the spill, and much of it is aimed at BP CEO Tony Hayward, who today apologized for a statement many believed was insensitive.
As reported on "World News" Tuesday night, Hayward said over the weekend that he was eager for the spill to be over because "I want my life back."
Today, Hayward backtracked, writing in a Facebook post that he was "appalled" at his own comment.
"I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don't represent how I feel about this tragedy," Hayward wrote.
Gulf Coast Residents Have Questions for BP
But residents of the Gulf Coast aren't satisfied with BP's answers and explanations, and they wrote to "World News" yesterday to share their frustrations.
11-year-old Skyler Kimbrough from Mississippi wrote with her concern about hiring out-of-work fishermen.
"This is OUR coast," she wrote. "We need to give them the first shot at helping."
Today, ABC's Chris Cuomo posed the question to BP spokesman Mike Abendhoff -- are local people getting preference on cleanup jobs?
"Our priority is to hire local workers, businesses, local caterers, that is our number one priority in our area," Abendhoff said. "We have workers coming from all over, specialized workers, but when we can, we hire locals."
Cuomo also asked about reports that support money has been running out for fishermen who need help, but Abendhoff said that's not the case.
"We have offices right now and if people go in with their information, they can walk out with a check today," he said.
Forty miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, ground zero of the oil leak, scientists have discovered three huge swaths of oil, some up to 20 miles long and six miles wide, despite BP's claims that plumes do not exist.
These marine scientists onboard the F.G. Walton Smith, a federally funded research vessel, had read a study released in 2001 by the Minerals Management Service and oil companies -- including BP -- that showed they knew how oil and gas would combine at certain depth and stay in the water instead of rising to the surface.
CLICK HERE to read the study.
On Sunday BP's CEO Tony Hayward denied the existence of plumes below the surface.
"The oil is on the surface. It's very difficult for oil to stay in a column," he said. "It wants to go to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity."
The surface of the water may look clean, but once the scientists deploy sensitive instruments 4,900 feet into the Gulf, they are able to detect any subtle changes in the water's chemistry due to the oil. They have discovered oil and gas plumes suspended there and stretching for miles.
Researchers Discover Underwater Plumes"In some cases we actually saw what…looked like oil droplets on the filters in some of the deepest parts of the plume," Adam Rivers, a researcher with the University of Georgia, said.
But these scientists are still striving to understand how these plumes will affect the Gulf's delicate ecosystem.
"I think one of the things that we're finding out about from this oil spill is that…we don't know enough," Dr. Mandy Joye, who is leading the team, said.
Criminal Investigation Launched
After several weeks of a federal review into whether the oil companies were criminally negligent or if false statements were made, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a criminal investigation into the oil leak on Tuesday.
Holder declined to name specific companies but said the investigation has been ongoing for "some weeks."
After meeting with the two men heading up his commission on the spill, former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Bill Reilly, Obama called for justice.
"If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of this catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region," Obama said.
In Louisiana, local officials want the White House to concentrate on more immediate needs, such as forcing BP to help build miles of barrier islands to protect the coast.
"I want Admiral Allen to do the right thing and step up to the plate and recommend to the president to authorize every dredge in America to be moved to build these barrier islands…before a hurricane takes a blanket of oil and lays it over coastal Louisiana and destroys it forever," Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines parish in Louisiana, said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal echoed Nungesser's outrage and said the federal government has been dragging its feet.
"If we'd gotten approval when we asked for this over 21 days ago, we'd have 10 miles built today. With a hundred miles, we'll protect over 4,000 miles of coastline," Jindal said.