WASHINGTON, May 14, 2010 -- President Obama today said his administration is fully aware of the "seriousness and urgency" of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, now in its 25th day, and pledged to hold all parties accountable for stopping the leak and cleaning up the mess.
"I saw firsthand the anger and frustration felt by our neighbors in the Gulf," Obama said. "Let me tell you, it is an anger and frustration I share as president."
Obama made the remarks following a meeting with top administration and Cabinet officials to discuss the latest developments in the response effort and to determine the next steps.
"I'm not going to rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil in the Gulf is contained and cleaned up and people in the Gulf are able to go back to their lives and livelihoods," he said.
The president also made clear that some of his frustration stems from what he called a "ridiculous spectacle" earlier this week, when executives from the three companies responsible for the damaged rig engaged in finger-pointing before a congressional committee.
On Tuesday, Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, told a Senate panel, "Liability, blame, fault -- put it over here," referring to Transocean and Halliburton executives sitting next to him.
Each company has defended its own role in the rig operation, hinting that one of the other partners may be more to blame.
"The American people could not have been impressed with that display and I certainly wasn't," Obama said.
Oil Leak 10 Times Worse Than Thought?
Meanwhile, the gushing oil, seen in underwater footage of the uncapped pipe, poses a serious threat to the Gulf ecosystem and the region's tourism and seafood economy. The slick of crude oil floating on the ocean's surface has not grown noticeably in the last 10 days and has yet substantially to reach shore. It is expected to skirt the Mississippi delta this weekend.
Scientists now speculate the scale of the leak could be as much as five to 10 times worse than projected by company and government officials.
Today, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who's been charged with leading the government's efforts on the spill, dismissed the importance of determining the rate of the oil flow at the bottom of the Gulf.
"I need to focus on the task at hand, which is the response," he told ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman. "If we get so focused on increments and changes and how much the change is when we already know we are planning for something much larger than that ... right now that is not an essential element of information for me to do my job."
Allen compared the challenge at the bottom of the Gulf to the problems engineers faced during the Apollo 13 crisis, noting that the environment on the sea floor is a very different situation than spills like Exxon Valdez.
"We have no human access to the discharge point. Everything that is happening is happening at 5,000 feet in depth," he said. "Everything that we know is from remove vehicles that give us a two-dimensional video."
Still, video of the leak that BP reluctantly released this week has unleashed a torrent of speculation from scientists about the real volume of oil spilling out. For weeks, BP and the Coast Guard have said it is 5,000 barrels a day.
Steve Wereley, an associate professor at Purdue University, believes it could be much larger, a staggering 70,000 barrels per day.
"I know how much is coming out could potentially be important for scaling the cleanup operation as well as what technologies might be applicable in plugging the leak," Wereley said.
Obama Endorses Domestic Drilling Despite Spill
President Obama argued today that the precise size the leak is in many ways irrelevant.
"Our mobilization and response efforts have always been geared towards the possibility of a catastrophic event," he said, addressing the various estimates. "There's oil leaking and we need to stop it, and stop it as soon as possible."
In response to the president's remarks, Tony Hayward, BP's CEO, thanked the administration for its "engagement" in the response effort and said the company understands and shares Obama's "sense of urgency over the length of time this complex task is taking."
Overnight, BP, the damaged well's owner, began its latest attempt to plug the leak using deep-sea robots to try and insert a small pipe to siphon the oil to a ship on the surface. Adm. Allen said today workers are also preparing to make a second attempt at capping the flow with a special dome.
BP has committed to pay for the entire response effort and compensate affected residents. It says it has already spent $450 million on the cleanup. The company made a $5.6 billion profit in the first three months of this year, or $62 million per day.
The federal government's role in the disaster also has not escaped Obama's scrutiny, and today he endorsed a recent Interior Department decision to split the function of the Minerals Management Service so that one agency is not collecting royalties from oil companies while it also enforces safety rules.
Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar is conducting a review of the Service and ordered new inspections of deep-water oil operations. The issuance of new permits to drill has also been put on hold.
"For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill," he said. "That cannot and will not happen anymore."
But the ongoing disaster in the Gulf has not changed the administration's decision to keep domestic oil drilling as part of its broader energy strategy, despite speculation that the president might have to reverse course.
"Domestic well drilling continues to be one part of an overall energy strategy that now includes more clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency than in any other time in our history," Obama said. "But it's absolutely essential going forward we put in place every necessary safeguard and protection so that a tragedy like this oil spill does not happen again."
More Americans approve of the administration's handling of the Gulf oil spill than don't, 43 percent to 33 percent, according to the latest Associated Press poll.
ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman, Darin Byrne and Kate McCarthy contributed to this report.