President Obama will complete his two-day tour of the Gulf states before returning to deliver a prime-time address to the nation from the Oval Office. This will be his first such address from his office at the White House and he is expected to update the American people on progress thus made on the BP oil spill, as well as legislative agenda in response to the disaster. Obama has appointed a panel of five academics to investigate the original accident from April 20 on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon drill rig and the impact of the oil spill on the Gulf region. Meanwhile, a Congressional panel released a series of BP emails which show that there were grave concerns prior to the accident and fire on April 20th.

In the past week, the Obama Administration has reversed course on declining offers of assistance from foreign sources. Booms and skimmer boats from several countries will now be allowed to aid in the clean-up and containment operations. After being given a 48 hour deadline from the Coast Guard, BP has submitted a new plan for attempting to capture more of the oil being discharged from the mile-deep well head. The current 15,000 barrels of oil per day will be increased to 25,000 barrels per day with the addition of a second collection ship before the end of June. BP also now plans to double that figure as quickly as possible with additional ships and equipment prior to completion of the relief well, expected to be finished in early August.

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) held hearings yesterday where a number of emails to and from BP officials were released. One such email described the Deepwater Horizon rig as a “nightmare well” six days before the accident and explosion occurred, killing 11 workers. On April 16th, four days before the accident and fire, a BP official responded to a recommendation from Halliburton to install 21 ‘centralisers’ in the well to stabilize it, the official agreed to only installing six. Perhaps most significant was a decision to use a ‘long string’ pipe running down to the well head. Quicker and cheaper to install, it does not prevent have internal barriers to prevent gas from flowing to the surface as a ‘liner tieback’ pipe does. The liner-type would have cost BP an additional $7-10 Million dollars and take several extra days to rig.

The investigating panel appointed by the White House to probe the accident will be led by Prof. Donald Boesch, head of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science. Boesch is a native of New Orleans and an expert on marine biology, marine pollution and wetlands. Also on the panel are Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and global warming advocate, Terry Garcia, head of the National Geographic Society’s ‘mission group’, Prof. Cherry Murray, noted physicist and expert on lasers, and Frances Ulmer of the University of Alaska Anchorage and former Democrat gubernatorial candidate against Frank Murkowski in 2002. Each member of the panel, except for Prof. Murray, was involved in various ways during the Exxon-Valdez incident. None have any genuine knowledge or expertise in engineering or oil drilling.

President Obama’s Oval Office speech tonight is expected to focus on the latest plans for cleaning up the oil spill. Also, a renewed effort to pass his ‘Cap and Trade’ carbon tax bill now in the Senate. The measure will add more expense and restrictions to current petroleum and coal based energy sources meant to steer the nation towards ‘green’ renewable energy sources. The is still no word on whether the Obama Administration will issue a waiver to the Jones Act of 1920, preventing foreign flagged and crewed ships from assisting in the clean-up efforts. In 2005, President Bush issued such a waiver immediately for foreign vessels and personnel to assist during the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Some offers of help, for example from the Dutch made on April 23rd, were rejected despite their expertise and equipment, capable of containing and collecting more than 150,000 barrels of oil and sludge per day, several times more than being spewed now.