Will outrage dissipate without live oil-spill video?

For more than three months, up to 15 cameras have fed Americans live video of BP’s oil-spill disaster from nearly a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The metaphor was not hard to catch–instead of fueling planes, trains, and automobiles, the gushing crude was fueling outrage.

Now that the spill has been contained by a cap that could divert all of the oil to ships above, will the outrage run out of gas? Will images of oiled birds and dolphins keep Americans hot under the collar, or will they turn to the live video for assurance, fill up their tanks, and go on doing what it is that Americans do?

Two hours ago in the Rose Garden, President Obama said that’s a worry.

A reporter asked, “Sir, do you think this means that basically we’re turning the corner at least in the Gulf? Tell the American people what you anticipate in the next few weeks ahead, because they’re still very anxious about this.”

And Obama said, essentially, remain anxious:

Well, I think it’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves here. One of the problems with having this camera down there is, is that when the oil stops gushing, everybody feels like we’re done — and we’re not.

The new cap is containing the oil right now, but scientists are doing a number of tests. What they want to make sure of is, is that by putting this cap on the oil isn’t seeping out elsewhere in ways that could be even more catastrophic. And that involves measuring pressures while this cap is on. The data is not all still in and it has to be interpreted by the scientists.

But here’s the good news that I think everybody needs to understand. Even if it turns out that we can’t maintain this cap and completely shut off the flow of oil, what the new cap allows us to do is to essentially attach many more containment mechanisms so that we’re able to take more oil up to the surface, put it on ships — it won’t be spilling into the Gulf.

The final solution to this whole problem is going to be the relief wells and getting that completed, but there’s no doubt that we have made progress as a consequence of this new cap fitting on, and that even if it turns out that we can’t keep the containment cap on to completely stop the oil, it’s going to allow us to capture much more oil and we’ll see less oil flowing into the Gulf.

Now, in the meantime, obviously we’ve still got a big job to do. There’s still a lot of oil out there, and that’s why we’ve got more skimmers out there, there’s better coordination on the ground along the shorelines, there’s still going to be an enormous cleanup job to do, and there’s still going to be the whole set of issues of surrounding making sure people are compensated properly, that the $20 billion fund is set up and is acting expeditiously.

So we’ve got an enormous amount of work to do and people down in the Gulf, particularly businesses, are still suffering as a consequence of this disaster. But we are making steady progress and I think the American people should take some heart in the fact that we’re making progress on this front.

Asked if the relief wells that should eventually seal the leaking well are on target, Obama said they are ahead of target, but he did not elaborate.

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