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High winds and choppy seas frustrated efforts to
hold back the oil spill seeping into Louisiana's rich fishing grounds
and nesting areas Friday, and the government desperately cast about for
new ideas for dealing with the nation's biggest environmental crisis in
The seas were too rough and the winds too strong
Friday to burn off the oil, suck it up effectively with skimmer vessels,
or hold it in check with the miles of orange and yellow inflatable
booms strung along the coast. The floating barriers broke loose in the
choppy water, and waves sent oily water lapping over them.
NOAA estimates that the oil slick will reach
parts of the Louisiana coast Friday.
"It just can't take the wave action," said Billy
Nungesser, president of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish.
Louisiana's National Guard mobilized to fight the
spill, but the first waves of crude neared the state's wetlands.
Sheen from the vast oil slick was beginning to
penetrate the ecologically rich coastal marshes and barriers island,
according to several reports, though the heavy oil was still offshore.
The state of Louisiana diverted thousands of gallons of fresh water from
the Mississippi River to try to flush out the wetlands, though that
effort was being hampered by wind.
High seas were in the forecast through Sunday and
could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds, creeks and lakes that line
the boot of southeastern Louisiana. With the wind blowing from the
south, the mess could reach the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts
The Guard prepared to send communication equipment,
boats, all-terrain vehicles and other equipment to help. Animal rescue
workers say they've begun to clean oil off sea birds coated from the oil
spill that's begun to wash ashore along the Gulf Coast, according to
Eileen Fleming of member station WWNO
in New Orleans.
Weather May Drive Spill Deeper Inland
The National Weather Service predicted winds, high
tides and waves through Sunday that could push oil deep into the inlets,
ponds and lakes that line the boot of southeast Louisiana. Seas of 6 to
7 feet were pushing tides several feet above normal toward the coast,
compounded by thunderstorms expected in the area Friday.
Crews are unable to skim oil from the surface or
burn it off for the next couple of days because of the weather, Coast
Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara said.
Waves may also wash over booms strung out just off
shorelines to stop the oil, said Tom McKenzie, a spokesman for U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, which is hoping booms will keep oil off the
Chandeleur Islands, part of a national wildlife refuge. "The challenge
is, are they going to hold up in any kind of serious weather," McKenzie
said. "And if there's oil, will the oil overcome the barriers even
though they're ... executed well?"
President Obama sought to reassure Gulf Coast
communities Friday and counter any perception that his administration
has been slow to respond. At a Rose Garden news conference, he said the
federal government is "fully prepared" to meet its responsibilities to
them as the spill becomes a worsening environmental disaster.
The president said no new offshore leases would be
issued to oil companies unless they were subject to stricter safety
measures, NPR’s Giles Snyder reported. But Obama, who recently lifted a
drilling moratorium for many offshore areas, including the Atlantic and
Gulf areas, underscored that offshore drilling remains an important part
of U.S. energy policy.
The Coast Guard also defended the federal response
to the spill.
Brice-O'Hara, appearing on multiple TV news shows,
said the Coast Guard-led federal response to the spill has been rapid
and sustained, and that it has adapted as the threat has grown since a
drill rig exploded and sank last week. The Coast Guard, she said, has
been closely monitoring efforts directed by oil company BP PLC to
contain and stop the leak and has filled in gaps where needed.
Military Planes Awaiting Orders
The Gulf spill was up to five times larger than
first estimated and could surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster in scope.
"It is of grave concern," David Kennedy of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told The Associated
Press. "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."
Florida's governor declared a state of emergency as
the slick spread across the Gulf. The declaration from Gov. Charlie
Crist, which covers six counties in the state’s panhandle, frees up
state money and activates Florida's National Guard to respond to the
But Judith Smelser of member station WMFE in Orlando said some experts think
ocean currents could carry the oil all the way around the Florida
Two Air Force planes have been sent to Mississippi
and were awaiting orders to start dumping chemicals on the oil spill
threatening the coast, as the government worked Friday to determine how
large a role the military should play in the cleanup.
The C-130 Hercules cargo planes, specially designed
for aerial spraying, were sent Thursday from the Youngstown Air Reserve
Station in Ohio, said a spokesman there, Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.
The planes and crews were standing ready in case
they're needed, said Maj. David F**gard, an Air Force spokesman at the
"If this mission comes to pass, it would be first
time we have done this in a real world scenario," Barko said, adding
that the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown has trained for such a mission
and has done other spraying such as mosquito-abatement flights after
Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
NPR’s Wade Goodwyn, reporting from New Orleans,
said that as the slick moved closer to shore, a strong smell of crude
oil had penetrated the city and other parts of southern Louisiana,
extending as far as Baton Rouge. Authorities urged people with
respiratory illness to take precautions or remain indoors.
Hundreds Of Gulf Coast Species Imperiled
The oil slick could become the nation's worst
environmental disaster in decades, threatening hundreds of species of
fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world's
richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of
emergency Thursday, which allows the state to free up resources to
prepare for the oil's impact.
The Coast Guard has worked with British oil giant
BP, which operated the rig that exploded April 20 and then sank, to
deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and to set
controlled fires to burn the oil off the water's surface.
Obama has pledged that his administration will use
"every single resource at our disposal." Homeland Security Secretary
Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and environmental
protection administrator Lisa Jackson will travel to the Gulf of Mexico
on Friday to oversee efforts to contain the spill.
Salazar said he pressed the chief executive of BP
to "work harder and faster and smarter to get the job done." He said the
government will not rest until BP seals the well and "they clean up
every drop of oil."
As for the cause of the accident, he said: "I am
confident we will get to the bottom of what happened here. Those
responsible will be held accountable."
BP confirmed Thursday that up to 5,000 barrels, or
200,000 gallons, of oil a day are spilling from the site of the deadly
oil rig explosion in which 11 workers are still missing and presumed
Many of the more than two dozen lawsuits filed in
the wake of the explosion claim it was caused when workers for oil
services contractor Halliburton Inc. improperly capped the well.
Halliburton denied it.
At that rate, the spill could easily eclipse the
worst oil spill in U.S. history — the 11 million gallons that leaked
from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound
in 1989 — in the three months it could take to drill a relief well and
plug the gushing well 5,000 feet underwater on the seafloor. Ultimately,
the spill could grow much larger than the Valdez because Gulf of Mexico
wells typically hold many times more oil than a single tanker.
At least 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled,
according to Coast Guard estimates.
’We'll Take Help From Anyone’
Jackie Savitz, a toxicology scientist with the
environmental group Oceani, says that at the current flow rate, the
spill will reach the 11 million gallon mark of the Exxon Valdez spill in
50 days. The Gulf holds several endangered and threatened species,
including four species of endangered sea turtle, in addition to
dolphins, porpoises and whales.
"This is one of only two spawning areas for bluefin
tuna in the world," Savitz said. "If larvae are exposed, there's a good
chance they won't survive or their survival will be reduced because of
the oil spill."
Doug Suttles, the oil company's chief operating
officer, told NBC's Today show that oil is bubbling up from the
ocean bottom at a rate of 1,000 to 5,000 barrels a day. He said the
company would welcome help from the U.S. Defense Department and other
agencies in containing the slick.
"We'll take help from anyone," Suttles said.
As the slick has grown, so have potential cleanup
costs. Napolitano called BP the responsible party for costs "as the
president and the law have made clear."
Industry officials say replacing the Deepwater
Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP, would cost up to
$700 million. BP has said its costs for containing the spill are running
at $6 million a day. The company said it will spend $100 million to
drill the relief well. The Coast Guard has not yet reported its
The massive Gulf spill could result in billions of
dollars losses for BP and curb plans to expand offshore drilling,
according to NPR's Chris Arnold.
The chairman of PFC Energy, Robin West, says BP
could spend several hundred million dollars on cleanup efforts but that
bigger costs could come from legal liability for spill-related damages.
"If it gets into all the bayous and estuaries and
things like that, the potential liability is immense," West said. "The
Mississippi River delta is one of the great spawning grounds on earth."