Oil leaking from the site of the Deepwater Horizon drilling accident has begun to hit the shores of the United States, according to media reports.
Authorities have still not managed to stem the flow of oil from three leaks 1.5 km underwater in the Gulf of Mexico.
The sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the subsequent oil leakage has now been declared an incident of national significance, President Barack Obama announced yesterday. Department of Interior teams have been mobilised to inspect all platforms and rigs in the Gulf, he said.
Declaring the incident a “Spill of National Significance” allows more federal resources to be brought to bear. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has already asked for funding for 6,000 National Guard troops to be deployed to help clean up the oil.
Yesterday, Jindal said, “Based on current projections, we expect the oil to reach land today at the Pass-A-Loutre Wildlife Management Area. By tomorrow, we expect oil to have reached the Chandeleur Islands and by Saturday, it is expected to reach the Breton Sound. These are important wildlife areas and these next few days are critical.”
New attempts to mitigate the damage the leak will cause are also starting. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is attempting to see if dispersants can be applied to the oil at the point of the leak, in addition to spraying them on slicks at the surface. And yesterday’s test burn succeeding in burning off around 100 barrels of oil in 45 minutes.
Obama had planned to expand offshore drilling, but industry experts are already thinking the accident may curtail this move.
“Regulators will want to understand how this occurred and quite reasonably wish to introduce additional regulation, if that’s appropriate, to prevent it happening again," Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, told The Wall Street Journal. “You certainly won’t see BP standing in the way of that.”
Attention is now turning to the shores though, where an environmental disaster may be in the offing.
“It is of grave concern,” David Kennedy, of NOAA, told AP. “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”
UPDATE: AP reports that “A top adviser to President Barack Obama says no new oil drilling will be authorized until authorities learn what caused the explosion of the rig Deepwater Horizon.”
“No additional drilling has been authorised and none will until we find out what happened … and whether there was something unique and preventable here,” said David Axelrod (Times).
Image top: Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico as of 29/04 16:48 UTC / NASA MODIS
Image lower: NOAA oil locations and forecast.