Gulf Coast oil spill comes ashore, could top Exxon Valdez numbers
By Cain Burdeau and Holbrook Mohr
The Associated Press
VENICE, La. — Faint fingers of oily sheen from a spill that threatened to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez disaster have reached the mouth of the Mississippi River.
By sunset Thursday, the oil was lapping at the shoreline. Booms in place to protect grasslands and sandy beaches were being overtopped by 5-foot waves of oily water in choppy seas.
In the distance, the lights of the fleet of boats working to keep more of the crude oil away from the coast were outlined in the dying twilight.
The spill was both bigger and closer than imagined — five times larger than first estimated.
"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."
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 life.
"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren't proactive," Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice said. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."
The Coast Guard worked with BP, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water's surface.
The Coast Guard urged the company to formally request more resources from the Defense Department. A BP executive said the company would "take help from anyone."
Government officials said the blown-out well 40 miles offshore is spewing five times as much oil into the water as originally estimated — about 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, a day.
How a containable accident suddenly became a crisis
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Suddenly, everything changed.
For days, as an oil spill spread in the Gulf of Mexico, BP assured the government the plume was manageable, not catastrophic. Federal authorities were content to let the company handle the mess while keeping an eye on the operation.
But then government scientists realized the leak was five times larger than they had been led to believe, and days of lulling statistics and reassuring words gave way Thursday to an all-hands-on-deck emergency response. Now questions are sure to be raised about a self-policing system that trusted a commercial operator to take care of its own mishap even as it grew into a menace imperiling Gulf Coast nature and livelihoods from Florida to Texas.
The pivot point had come Wednesday night, at a news conference at an oil research center in the tiny community of Robert, La. That's when the nation learned the earlier estimates were way off, and an additional leak had been found.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama set in motion a larger federal mobilization, pledging to deploy "every single available resource" to the area and ordering his disaster and environmental leaders to get down there in person. Only a few days after the Coast Guard assured the country there was "ample time" to protect the coast if oil came ashore, warnings from the government were newly alarming.
Will this be Obama's Katrina? Should the federal and state governments have done more, and earlier? Did they learn the lessons of the devastating hurricane?(Unless of course, you consider this a natural disaster that the President ignored or wasn't made aware of for almost a week and then did an Air Force 1 flyover, and had to be shown a video prepared by White House aide, David Bartlett)
Political calculations vied with the increasingly scary Gulf reality — hundreds of thousands of oil and its progression to landfall as soon as Thursday night. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who also is in a hot campaign for the Senate, flew over the slick and commended the federal actions to date but wondered if anyone, really, could be doing enough in this situation. "It appeared to me," he said, "that this is probably much bigger than we can fathom."
Two days later, the Deepwater Horizon sank and crews spotted a 1-by-5-mile sheen with a dark center that appeared to be a crude oil mix. Obama got his first briefing on the accident.
Landry said the following day that no oil appeared to be leaking from a well head at the ocean floor, nor was any leaking noted at the surface.
At the White House, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said that sometimes accidents happen, and the loss of the Deepwater Horizon was no reason to back off on the president's recent decision to support expanded offshore drilling. (Actually, it is a perfectly good reason to reconsider the idea of offshore drilling. The President's initial "decision" was little more than pandering to the neantherthal right, reaching across the barbed-wire aisle.)
This catastrophic disaster is not about politics, unless you want to talk about the amount of power a corporation (in this case, BP), wields over the government. I want go there. It is too obvious. Right now, I am concerned about the ramifications of this accident on the besieged gulf region, what this will do to New Orleans and what it is doing to the world.