Can BP be trusted to clean up oil spill?

HOUSTON We still don't know how bad the oil spill in the Gulf is going to get. As crews work around the clock to fix the problem, one of President Barack Obama's top men in charge of the cleanup is now in Houston and he's announced a big change.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that he will stop all new applications for any offshore drilling until his team can review safety out in the Gulf. It will take another three weeks to complete.

Salazar also came to Houston for an update on BP's progress. It was likely a contentious meeting. On Sunday, Salazar said he would keep a boot on BP's throat to make sure they do their job. Something those familiar with the company tell us might not be a bad idea.

With BP's giant oil sucking dome on its way a mile below the water Thursday night, there may be some room for optimism. The dome could pull 85 percent of the spill directly to the surface - if it works.

"We, as the United States of America, are doing everything within our power to make sure that this problem is effectively addressed," said Secretary Salazar.

He was at BP's west Houston crisis center Thursday afternoon, where hundreds of experts are working around the clock to stop the spill. They're confident they will come up with a solution.

"We will stop this, that's for sure, but it is of course a question of time," said BP CEO Tony Hayward.

However, stopping the leak is just part of BP's job. By federal law the company is responsible to clean up oil in marshes and on beaches and compensate fisherman for their losses. BP says it will do all of that, but it hasn't always kept promises to company victims or the federal government.

"There's no reason to believe they will be any different than they were in the past," said Brent Coon, a Houston lawyer.

Coon successfully sued BP after an explosion at the company's Texas City refinery killed 15 people in March 2005. BP promised then to make safety improvements. But last year, when the improvements weren't made on time, OSHA fined BP a record-breaking $87 million.

"The reality is that they misrepresent and misstate the facts in terms of what their conduct has been, in terms of what their conduct is, and what their conduct will be. And we can't trust them," Coon said.

BP has already been criticized this week for trying to limit future lawsuits from fisherman helping with the clean up. The company was forced to rip up signed waivers from fisherman who didn't know they were giving away their rights.

On Thursday, Salazar said, "(BP's) life is very much on the line here, and how it responds to this situation that we are dealing with in the Gulf of Mexico is something that I know they are taking very seriously."

BP says they've done all they said they would do, that they've already given $25 million to each of the Gulf states to clean up the spill. They intend to go as long as it takes.

Across Houston, the Sierra Club protested at the Offshore Technology Conference. They want a stop to all new offshore drilling and say projects like this can't go on.

The ban Secretary Salazar announced will go at least until the end of May, possibly longer.

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