BP Oil Spill: Attorney General Heads to Gulf Coast

Could visit from Eric Holder signal a possible criminal investigation?

May 31, 2010— -- The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is now 42 days old, with tens of millions of gallons of oil already having spewed into the water and no end in sight.

As political pressure grows for the White House to intervene, BP may soon have to answer to the top law enforcement official of the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that Tuesday he's going to to the Gulf Coast.

Holder will survey affected areas and meet with state attorneys general, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

But some are asking whether this might be a sign of something bigger -- that BP could face a potential criminal investigation. The DOJ has already asked for BP to preserve all documents related to the spill.

BP Overestimated Ability to Cope with Disaster

From the beginning, BP underestimated both the amount of oil leaking and the potential for environmental destruction.

Today, we learned the company overestimated its ability to handle a disaster. In a 2008 application, they claimed they could stop a leak of 250,000 barrels per day, a spill ten times larger than what they're dealing with now.

That news has left many along the Gulf Coast wondering if the British oil company should step aside and let the U.S. military take over.

"You don't allow someone to mind the store if they have been caught stealing," said Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, a low-lying part of the Mississippi River delta that stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico.

James Carville, a political commentator who grew up in Louisiana and currently lives in New Orleans, echoed that comment on "Good Morning America," saying, "I do know, for too long, they were taking BP's word for everything, which turned out to be wrong at every junction. It's all turned out on the wrong side."

But a military takeover is not so simple. The Pentagon says there are some missions it does well, but stopping an oil leak 5,000 feet under water isn't one of them.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged as much on "GMA" this morning, saying that "the best technology in the world with respect to that exists in the oil industry."

'Top Kill' Fails to Stem the Leak

So far, though, all of BP's technology has failed.

The sixth attempt to control the week failed this weekend, with the "top kill" procedure unable to plug the blowout preventer on the ocean floor. But BP is now making a seventh attempt, the riskiest move yet, that could actually make things worse, officials acknowledge.

The new plan would send undersea robots to lop off the crippled pipeline. The company would then lower a small dome -- the third they've tried -- to siphon the oil. But by making that cut to the pipeline, BP could release up to 20 percent more oil than is already gushing, White House officials admitted today.

The only fix that anyone has real confidence in -- two relief wells -- won't be completed until August.

Oil Spill Devastates Tourism Industry in Gulf, Florida

ABC News has learned that federally backed scientists who are hunting oil plumes made a grim discovery -- that the biggest plumes yet, located some 3,500 feet under the surface, are comprised of a concentration of oil that was literally off the charts. Some are as long as 22 miles.

On Sunday, BP's CEO Tony Hayward denied that such plumes exist.

"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."

While oil has made it to shore in some places along the Gulf coastline, fears about contamination have devastated the tourism industry all along the Gulf and Florida coastlines on what would typically be a hopping holiday weekend.

Some resorts in the Gulf have reported reservations dropping by about half. And four in 10 travelers say the oil spill would influence their decision to visit the area.

"People are convinced there is a black blanket coming across the Florida Keys that has smothered every fish here," said charter boat captain Mike Weinhofer.

Though the oil hasn't come close to places like Key West, tourists are still nervous about the water. Some hotels have even made guarantees to patrons that if tar balls wash up on the beach, their money will be refunded.