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Obama administration recruits outside experts to help BP

HOUSTON — Two of President Obama's cabinet secretaries charged with overseeing the oil spill in the Gulf met with officials in BP America's headquarters on Wednesday as the government and industry experts continued to look for remedies to stop the massive escape of oil from 5,000 feet below the surface.

“We are confident and resolute that we will stop this problem and we are confident and resolute that we will continue to push BP as the responsible party here and make sure at the end of the day this problem is effectively dealt with,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who flew to Houston along with Energy Secretary Steven Chu for meetings that began at 6 a.m. Texas time.

The two secretaries also recruited a team of high-level experts to inject what Chu described as outside “intellectual firepower” into the mission. Chu said the scientists, some of whom come from prestigious universities, will assist BP and government officials in looking for solutions and trying to correct future problems.

The experts were identified as Dr. Tom Hunter, director of the Department of Energy's Sandia National Labs; Dr. George A. Cooper, an expert in materials science who's retired from the University of California at Berkeley; Richard Lawrence Garwin, a physicist, Dr. Jonathan I. Katz, a professor of physics at Washington University, and Dr. Alexander H. Slocum, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While the administration emissaries said they believe the problem will ultimately be solved, they offered no guarantees that an immediate solution is in sight.

The next move involves a “top-hat” containment device that experts are readying to place over the well in an attempt to halt an underwater gusher that is pouring more than 5,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf each day. A larger containment device was sidelined after being clogged with ice-like crystals.

Chu, a Nobel Prize winner, said he was guardedly optimistic. “I’m feeling more confident than I was a week ago,” he said. “Things are looking up.” But he also added that “this is a complicated affair” and said he did not want to be seen as offering false hope.

Salazar described the trip as a “manifestation of the president’s focus on dealing with this problem” and said the administration is working toward a two-pronged goal: to resolve the immediate problem and find ways prevent future catastrophes.

The two administration officials conducted a brief press conference on the plaza in front of BP quarters shortly after concluding their five-hour discussions. BP officials did not attend the press conference.