Washington (CNN) - A stern-faced President Barack Obama on Thursday announced steps to limit new oil drilling and exploration as the investigation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues, telling the American people that he is "fully engaged" and ultimately responsible for what he called a catastrophe.
"I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down," Obama said at the end of a White House news conference. "That doesn't mean it's going to be easy. That doesn't' mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen. That doesn't mean we aren't going to make mistakes."
He insisted that the federal government was fully engaged, adding "and I'm fully engaged."
Obama's announcement was in response to the deadly April 20 explosion on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig that triggered a devastating oil spill. New federal estimates Thursday determined the spill is likely the largest in U.S. history, with oil already coating parts of the Louisiana coast and the eventual impacts still unclear.
The new steps announced Thursday were in response to a report on the Gulf spill by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that Obama ordered last month. Salazar briefed Obama and senior advisers on the report Wednesday night.
Obama said the government would seek aggressive new operating standards and requirements for offshore oil companies. For now, he said, the government was suspending planned oil exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska, canceling pending lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off Virginia, and halting the issuance of new permits for deep-water wells for six months.
Obama called the new steps part of a broader government response intended to prevent a similar catastrophe from happening again.
"We'll continue to do whatever is necessary to protect and restore the Gulf coast," Obama said.
At the same time, Obama warned that the situation was dire.
"This is going to be hard, not just right now, this is going to be hard for months to come," he said. "The Gulf is going to be affected in a bad way."
Noting the growing national anger and frustration at the inability of oil giant BP to cap the leaking well 5,000 feet below the Gulf surface, Obama said he understood why people were upset, particularly those from the affected coastal regions whose livelihoods were threatened.
He cited longstanding problems at the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service that resulted in lax regulation of offshore oil drilling, but said he was unaware of the circumstances surrounding Thursday's resignation of MMS Director Elizabeth Birnbaum.
The main problem, Obama said, was that BP and other oil companies - along with federal regulators - never properly determined or prepared for a worst-case scenario.
"On a whole bunch of fronts, you had a complacency when it came to what happens in the worst-case scenario," he said.
Obama said he believed BP wanted to stop the leak as much as anyone, albeit for business and liability reasons, but he also expressed reservations about accepting BP's assessment of the extent of the disaster.
"We have to verify whatever they say about the damage," Obama said, acknowledging the government had fallen short in that task up to now.
Looking forward, he said, the government and the American people must have confidence that future drilling mishaps can be fixed within days, not weeks or months. Right now, he said, that confidence was lacking.
Obama also said the oil spill showed the need for the United States to transition from an oil-based energy system to renewable and cleaner sources of energy that are developed and produced at home, instead of imported from abroad.
While America will continue to use oil in coming years as part of the transition, he noted that the deep-water well involved in the current spill
showed how reserves were more difficult to exploit and therefore included more risk.
"The easily accessible oil has already been sucked out of the ground," Obama said. "... We as a society are going to have to make some determinations about what risk we are willing to accept."
Obama will travel to Louisiana on Friday to observe response efforts and speak to local officials. It will be his second trip to the region since the spill began.
In reaction to the new steps, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska expressed "frustration" about the administration's new roadblocks for the
state's oil industry.
The decision "will cause more delays and higher costs for domestic oil and gas production to meet the nation's energy needs," Begich said, as well as costing money and jobs in Alaska.
Begich conceded that the Gulf spill "highlighted the need for much stronger oversight and accountability of oil companies working offshore," but said Shell Oil "can safely explore for oil and gas this summer in the Arctic."
– CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Evan Glass contributed to this report.
"I take responsibility." I'm so glad we finally have an adult in the White House.
Godspeed Barack Obama. America is with you!
I'll wait eagerly by the television tonight to wait for "thank you" statements from Gov. Jindahl and the big guy who's in charge of one of the Parishes on the golf. The President announced today that his administration approved their plan to dredge sand to create a natural barrier in a section most at risk.
C'mon, even FOX has to give the President credit for taking advice from local republicans, making sure it is feasible and then giving it the green light. Wait, maybe now that the President has approved it, they'll be against it (how republican of them)!
FIX THE LEAK. Don't just blame people, DO SOMETHING!
This presidnt is real "green"...as he allows oil to just spill and spill, while he just wants to gain political points.
I agree with Obama (believe it or not). Except, I would shut down everything off-shore including existing operating wells until they can test and prove they can handle several disaster scenarios outlined by the government.
Mr. Obama, this is how to lead and govern. I knew I could teach you something even on a topic which we agree upon.
America regulates Big Oil like a 3rd world banana republic. Glad to see at least one person from MMS leave. Still not enough...the entire agency needs to get eliminated and not be run by people looking to get hooked up with big $ job offers by the very same people the govt authorizes to regulate. So much for Republican laissez faire politics.
Of course, he is now engaged, now that BP has finally started to cap the well. nobummer has not been engaged because he was to busy running off to California to raise money for boxer and now he wants to go on another vacation. Between fund raisers,playing golf and basketball and going on vacations to rest from not doing his job, now he wants to take credit for BP's work. What a pathetic comic in chief...
Obama: "I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down"
That is called being a REAL LEADER.
Thank you President Obama for doing ALL in your power to solve this crisis. It hurts right now. But this man will NOT rest until things have been set straight.
The administration has been engaged. The president doesn't need to be in scuba gear swimming to the well head to be aware and involved with what's going on. He also doesn't need to be waving his arms and freaking and screaming to be in control. He and his administration have been doing a good job.
Now is the real test, regulating the oil industry – enough corporate greed and destruction to our entvironment. And enough subsidies to the oil companies. Their day of reckoning has come.
BP, Halliburton and Transocean need to be fined one year's gross (far less than their victims have lost) and ALL the proceeds put into R&D and production for wind & solar energy. If those sources are not competitive yet, it is because of scale and lack of technological perfection, both of which would be addressed by diverting funds from fossil fuel profits.
I'm sure he is. This oil spill is like nothing this country has ever experienced before and I am not surprised that the Republicans are all over him. It's like they knew what to do about Katrina and we've had floods like that before. All they are are arm chair quarterbacks who if they were in charge could do not better. All talk and no action those repubs. Keep up the good work Mr. President.
One thing I can say about the republicans and tea partiers. They are persistent with their thinking. No matter what Obama does they have a problem. The president is in a no win situation with these folks. The President just needs to keep doing what he is doing. He is the hardest working President i have ever seen in my lifetime. The Republicans and their crew are really in a panic because a black man is in the White House. In case they have forgotton black people are smart too. Edycation is not just for the whites. Also they keep syaing take heir country back. From my history it was never their country until they stole it. People please get a grip. Read more, education is the key and when you do please do not change history to your liking. BP should clean up this mess and pay for it also. They are the ones that tried to go the cheap route thanks to Bush and Cheney deregulating everything. I agree that we need to take out the old coots in the house and senate, because America needs to move forward. Using the same old ideas and being greedy has led us into this mess. Please stop blaming Obama. Every since he took office the Republicans have blamed him for everything. I give Obama an A plus for trying.Blame the good old boy network. From our fore athers we had a great start, after that we went down hill, because the politicians today are just for themselves, changing laws for the coprorations and themselves.. Sarah Palin is a good example of this observation. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand this. However Obama is doing the best he can with what he was left with to conquer these problems. Get your heads out of the sand and really look at what is going on.
Karl Rove had a column in the WSJ today saying that Obama has failed on this. Well, Karl, the policies and bureacracy that have adversely affected the response existed under failed oilman Bush and failed oil servicesman Cheney, both incompetent idiots that allowed the MMS to give the oversight of the oil companies TO the oil companies, a bad example of how screwed up the GOP was and is. So, the GOP can stop pounding on Obama AND TRY TO BE PARTOF THE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM, rather than the typical Grand Obstructionist Party AKA the Party of NO. Boner and Cantor and the rest of the GOP morons need to come up wtih solutions rather than just compound the issues. Jerks.
Thats it , do away with more jobs, stagnate the economy further and drive up the price of fuel. REAL SMART MOVE.And as far as being in charge from day one and on top of the situation, BS. Thats all we have heard from the feds is "We have been in charge since day one", over and over and over from every federal official. Well we are down here where we see what is going on.And all the requests for help in keeping the oil away from the marsh have been ignored by the feds. A flyover does not cut it. If they have been in charge from day one, then all I can say is you don't know what the heck they are doing. Worst case of inaction and management I have ever seen. All they want to do is make sure they get fines from the oil companies who provide most of the jobs around here.
Very ignorant plan, all the admin is interested in is pushing their own tree hugging agenda for green power. They also know nothing about what they are talking about when it comes to drilling for oil. Oil and the industrial revolution is what made this country strong, not a windmill.
This undoubtedly is a terrible situation but when I see a Louisiana congressman crying due to this, it's very disturbing. I don't recall seeing one politician shed one tear when 1,836 people died during Katrina or for the people who did survived.
To hose of you who think the offshore drilling oil goes directly to the US? You are WRONG! It's pump and then it goes on the world market.
To boner – STHU! We are sick and tired of your negative thoughts and ideas. Why don't you go down to the Gulf and get a real tan while you are at it!!!
The only thing he is "fully engaged"in right now is a massive PR campaign to save his own butt.
Uh, yeah. It's one thing to say you are fully engaged. It's quite another to put your boots on the ground. How many parties and fundraisers have you had while oil pollutes the Gulf? How many rounds of golf?
Boots on the ground is engaged. You, are not......
He's fully engaged, but doesn't know what happened to the MMS chief. Awesome.
Let's see drill, drill, drill, no wait not for six months.
You are a joke you don't know what you are doing.
Was there ever any doubt that the oil industry is nothing short of self serving? The history of past disasters and complacent response by the oil industry should not be a surprise indeed the whole lack of any serious accountability has become the norm. They do the minimum in precautionary standards in order to appease and not, by any means, because it is the right thing to do; their sense of entitlement runs amok.
Mr. President, while I strongly support your response and urge a complete moratorium on all off shore oil drilling, I can not believe that you are surprised by the disingenuous accounts of preparedness by the oil industry. How can a former Professor, community activist, Senator and now President be so ignorant of business practice? You could not have grown up in the time you grew up with out the persistent knowledge of dire consequences. Acid rain, Nuclear fallout, 3 Mile Island, Love Canal, Toxic Waste, etc....
This disaster was avoidable and now there is no going back. All we can do is try to lessen its deadly effect. Man has lost, Gulf marine life is in dire jeopardy, endangered species who knows.... people are getting sick and this is only the beginning.
Populism at its worst! The funny thing about this kind of stupidity is that when oil prices start rising because offshore drilling becomes too expensive, he'll be the first one accusing the markets of manipulation. When layoffs of highly paid oil workers start happening in the US because of this ban, he'll be the first to complain that big oil is sending American jobs overseas. Thank you Mr. President for acting like the uninformed angry guy in the street instead of acting like a real leader and explaining why you support something that may not be popular with the public.
This clown is the worst leader of all time.
He is terrible.
He is a crook.
He is a liar.
He is a socialist.
Time to get rid of this moron and his entire cabinet.
His JIHAD supporters in the DOJ and in the Intelligence community are amazing crooks and liars.
Worse president of all time...
Code for -"no, i don't have a clue about what to do"