| GEO World|
| Obama to extend moratorium of offshore oil permits|
| Updated at: 1725 PST, Thursday, May 27, 2010|
NEW ORLEANS: US President Barack Obama moved Thursday to extend a moratorium on deepwater oil drilling for six months as BP's risky bid to plug its leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico proceeded without incident.
"'Top kill' operations continued over the night and are ongoing," BP said in a statement on its website Thursday after Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told reporters that the effort was "proceeding according to plan."
Meanwhile, all 125 commercial fishing boats helping to clean up the oil off Louisiana's Breton Sound were recalled after four workers reported health problems, officials said.
The crew members aboard three separate vessels working in the area "reported experiencing nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains," raising questions over risks of working with the thick gobs of oil washing up on shores here and the toxicity of chemical dispersants used by BP to break up the slick.
After reviewing the disaster that sank the Deepwater Horizon rig over a month ago, a White House aide said Obama would extend for six month a moratorium on offshore oil drilling in deep water.
He also will delay planned oil exploration projects off the coast of Alaska until after a review by a presidential commission, and will cancel plans to lease drilling rights in the western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia, the aide said.
The actions come amid rising frustration over a series of failed attempts by British energy giant BP to plug the Deepwater Horizon leak, which sent waves of of crude oil slopping into Louisiana's fish and wildlife-rich marshes.
BP boss Tony Hayward has downplayed hopes for success with the latest "top kill" bid, cautioning that the procedure has never been tried before at such depth and against such pressure.
He warned it was expected to take two days to complete the difficult operation to inject heavy drilling fluids into the oil flow and then seal it with cement.
"We just need to take the next 24 hours and see what the results are," Suttles told reporters after being asked BP's level of optimism after the process was begun.
The work being carried out by remote-controlled robotic submarines a mile (1,600 meters) below the surface aims to counterbalance the oil flow with the injected fluids, drowning the leak long enough to dump cement on top and permanently seal it.
White House deputy spokesman Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One that President Barack Obama was being updated on the progress.
"I would say that his level of frustration is very high and that every moment that that hole is not plugged the president has a deep level of concern," he said.
Obama was Thursday to take questions at a press conference over the government's handling of the spill ahead of his second visit to the region on Friday.
The Deepwater Horizon rig, 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast, exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.
Its fractured pipe, which has been spouting oil for 36 days, has now soiled more than 100 miles of Louisiana coastline, state Governor Bobby Jindal said Wednesday, more than doubling the previous estimate.
A tour of coastal areas left the president of the local Plaquemines parish aghast at the devastation -- and what he described as an incompetent response.
"The same oil that's been out there two weeks ago is still out there. And nothing is being done," Billy Nungesser told CNN.
BP has previously only managed to siphon up some oil via a tube inserted into the pipe last week and Hayward has put the chances of the "top kill" success at 60 to 70 percent.
Officials are also readying back-up options but some, including the drilling of relief wells to divert the flow and allow the original well to be capped, could take several months.
The response by BP, Obama and the government all got bad grades from Americans in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.
Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed Monday and Tuesday said BP was doing a "poor" or "very poor" job. Sixty percent said the same about the federal government, while 53 percent slapped Obama with a poor rating on the crisis.