Oil Spill Spreads, Napolitano Says BP Liability Waivers Unacceptable

BP CEO called waivers an "early misstep."

April 28, 2010, 11:37 AM

May 3, 2010 — -- Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told "Good Morning America" today that it was unacceptable for BP to ask fishermen it hired to help with the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill to sign waivers that would limit the company's liability.

"I'm looking into that right now." she said. "I was just alerted to that and if that in fact is the case, that is a practice we want stopped immediately."

BP CEO Tony Hayward told "GMA" this morning that the company has already put a stop to the practice.

"That was an early misstep George, frankly. We were using a standard contract. We've eliminated that," Hayward told George Stephanopoulos.

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, which is estimated to be the size of Puerto Rico, has shown no sign of stopping as the country braces for what could be the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will meet with BP executives in Washington, D.C., today.

Napolitano said she wants to ensure that people who have been affected by the oil slick have a clear claims process and "prompt reimbursement."

"They are going to pay for the federal government's cost, for the states and most importantly for the individuals and communities that are going to be most directly impacted," Napolitano said.

The spill threatens four Gulf states and hundreds of miles of sensitive coast line. There are reports of injured wildlife including an oil-covered bird in Louisiana and 20 dead sea turtles in Mississippi, although it will require additional tests to find out the cause of death.

More than 6,800 square miles of federal fishing areas, from the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle, have been closed for at least 10 days.

Amid criticism of the federal government's response, President Obama Sunday visited the region to reiterate support and make clear that BP will be held accountable for the cleanup.

"Let me be clear, BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying for the bill," Obama said.

Hayward said that while his company is in charge of the cleanup, BP was not responsible for the accident April 20 that led to 11 deaths.

"The drilling rig was Transocean's drilling rig, it was their equipment that failed, its their systems, their processors that were running it," Hayward said.

BP Accepts Responsibility for Oil Cleanup

"We are responsible not for the accident, but we are responsible for the oil and for dealing with it and cleaning the situation up," Hayward said on "GMA" today.

BP is working on three possible solutions to stop the oil that is flowing from the bottom of the sea. First, the company is trying to repair the valve that was supposed to prevent the well from leaking. Hayward compared that operation to "conducting open heart surgery about 5,000 feet beneath the seabed."

The company is also trying to drill a relief well parallel to the leaking one, but that could take three months.

The fastest fix would be to place rectangular steel boxes, that weigh 74 tons, over the leaking pipe and then funnel the oil up to a ship. The boxes are expected to be on location next weekend.

Napolitano said BP has seen some success in using underwater dispersants and will conduct a review of the method this morning.

BP's safety record has been called into question, including a 2005 explosion at a Texas City refinery. The Wall Street Journal quoted Jordan Barab, a deputy assistant secretary of labor at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, who said, "there is a systemic safety problem across the company."

Hayward said the company has improved its safety record.

"I think we have made enormous strides as a company in the last three four years with a remorseless focus on safe and reliable operations," Hayward said.

BP is now concentrating on stopping the leak and cleaning the spill.

"We are clearly focused on minimizing the overall impact," Hayward said. "We are a big company and we intend to deal with this. We take this responsibility incredibly seriously. We absolutely will prevail and we will deal with it."

The Associated Press and ABC News' Jeffrey Koffman and Ryan Owens contributed to this report.

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