WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama awaited a firsthand update on the Gulf Coast oil spill as two members of his Cabinet on Sunday outlined the "very grave" environmental impact and sought to counter criticism the government had reacted slowly.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the administration had treated the explosion at the BP rig April 20 as a potential disaster from the beginning.
"The physical response on the ground has been from day one as if this could be a catastrophic failure," she said. "Every possible resource was being lined up on shore."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it was uncertain when the oil, spewing from a pipe nearly a mile beneath the water, would be plugged.
"The scenario is a very grave scenario. You're looking at potentially 90 days before you ultimately get to what is the ultimate solution," said Salazar. But then "a lot of oil could spread."
Obama planned to fly to Louisiana for briefings on the underwater spill, which remained unstopped and impossible to measure, raising fears it could be pouring more oil into the Gulf than earlier believed.
The Coast Guard estimated that at least 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers on an offshore rig. In the Exxon Valdez disaster, an oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons off Alaska's shores in 1989.
Obama has relied on reports from agency chiefs and Coast Guard officials since the magnitude of the spill became clear late Wednesday. Aides report he's been getting regular updates.
Salazar, Napolitano and the administration's point man on the disaster, the commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen, made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to defend the federal response.
Obama has said no new offshore oil drilling leases will be issued unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the explosion that unleashed the massive spill.
The spill came just weeks after Obama announced plans to open up large areas of the Eastern Seaboard and a part of the Gulf for possible future oil drilling. And it's led to increasing calls to reconsider that initiative by environmentalists and coastal state lawmakers.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)