WASHINGTON, June 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in the Gulf of Mexico region Tuesday to see first-hand the cleanup and recovery efforts of the BP oil spill.
Biden's itinerary included New Orleans and Pensacola, Fla., to survey response efforts, visit residents affected by the spill and meet with area officials, the White House said.
Biden was greeted by a half-dozen protesters carrying signs stating "Oil kills" when his motorcade arrived for a briefing and tour of the unified command center in downtown New Orleans.
"I don't think the American people have any idea" how many resources are being used to fight the spill," the vice president said afterward.
He then headed to Pomes Seafood to meet with people impacted by the spill.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he is asking BP to fund a 20-year, $400 million program to test seafood for oil contamination and rehabilitate fisheries. He noted commercial fishing is $2-billion-a-year industry in Louisiana and recreational anglers mean another $1 billion for the local economy.
"Our message to BP is that the cost of this program is just a fraction of the damages that could be caused if we don't do this," Jindal said.
In Pensacola, Biden was to visit Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Biden's visit came on the 71st day of the spill that began April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers. Tens of millions of gallons of crude have flowed into the gulf since then.
BP said it is on track to meet its August deadline of getting a relief well down to the area of the oil leak, CNN reported. The relief well reached a depth of 16,770 feet, but engineers will drill an additional 900 feet vertically before cutting in sideways, Kent Wells, BP senior vice president of exploration and production, said.
Efforts also continue to increase containment, Wells said, explaining a third rig was bring brought in, increasing containment 20,000 to 25,000 more barrels per day.
Menacing recovery operations could be Tropical Storm Alex, which the National Weather Service said was expected to strengthen into a hurricane as it moved into the gulf, but was tracking away from the spill area.
If the site must evacuate because of the storm, "there could be a break of about 14 days to take down the equipment and then bring it back," said U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, national incident commander.