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In Gulf oil spill 'war,' cleanup foot soldiers threaten mutiny

Claims problems and mixed messages from the Gulf oil spill unified command structure has local leaders from Pensacola to Plaquemines Parish fuming as the Gulf comes under what some call a 'tarball attack.'

By Staff writer / June 24, 2010

Coast Guard Capt. Mary Austin, Incident Commander for Louisiana, speaks to residents at an open house for information and assistance with the BP claims process, in Lafitte, La. on Tuesday.

Gerald Herbert/AP


Pensacola, Fla.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, President Obama's pointman on the Gulf oil spill, has called the effort to contain the runaway Macondo well and keep its crude release off beaches and out of marshes "an insidious war."

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But if the framing of the Deepwater Horizon accident and its aftermath has morphed from disaster rhetoric to war imagery, local officials say the shared BP and Washington response has suffered from a lack of situational awareness, racking up a long list of battlefield mistakes that is hampering efforts to keep tens of millions of gallons of gooey crude from coming ashore in the kind of "tarball attack" that hit Pensacola Beach Wednesday.

"You've got a militia sitting in this room," Gulf County commissioner Bill Williams told Coast Guard and BP officials in a combative meeting on Wednesday. "They can either be with you or against you."

IN PICTURES - Staff shots: Response to the oil spill on the Gulf Coast

The Coast Guard has admitted that it has failed to both anticipate and control the 2,500 square mile oil slick that's hiding in the waters off places like Perdido Key, Orange Beach and Plaquemines Parish, resolving to do better.

In recent weeks, the joint BP-Coast Guard Unified Command has created four regional command centers with the goal of pushing command and control down to spill level to better orchestrate the movement of boom and skimmers as the spill evolves.

Allen said Wednesday he hopes BP's replacement of Tony Hayward with Mississippi-born Bob Dudley as the spill response manager will improve communication and movement of resources.

"BP's decision to greater response organization for the Gulf ... is a very, very good decision," Allen said Thursday.

Earlier in the week Allen touted the success of the operation. "We have marshaled the largest response in our nation's history, and we have continued to adapt and evolve this response at every turn," he said.