Oil from the massive spill triggered by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion appears to have reached the U.S. Gulf Coast. According to The New York Times, the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating reports of oil along the shore, and is planning a flyover this morning to determine if the spill had made landfall.
Federal officials have now deemed the spill one of “national significance” and are taking a more aggressive approach to containment and cleanup. The U.S. Navy is now involved in the operation, along with 1,000 people and scores of vessels and aircraft. According to the Times, the Naval response includes 50 contractors, 7 skimming systems and 66,000 feet of inflatable containment boom. About 210,000 feet of boom had been laid down to protect the shoreline in several places along the Gulf Coast.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency and requested the participation of the National Guard in response efforts.
The stricken well continues to leak 5,000 barrels of oil a day. That’s five time the original estimate, and there are fears that this spill could surpass that of the Exxon Valdez if it is not contained soon.
BP, which leased Deepwater Horizon from TransOcean LTD, is responsible for the cleanup of the spill. The company has asked the Department of Defense for help activating the rig’s blowout preventer, a system of valves that is designed to seal off the well when it surges out of control. BP’s previous efforts to activate the valves with underwater remote control vehicles have failed thus far. It is asking the military for better imaging technology and more advanced remotely operated vehicles, the Times said.
According to The Times, BP is also soliciting ideas and techniques from four other major oil companies â€” Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and Anadarko.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has raised serious questions about the safety of offshore rigs. This morning, MSNBC.com is reporting that the Obama Administration has decided that no new offshore drilling will be authorized until the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion is known. Only recently, the President had started a process to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling off some parts of the U.S. Coast.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also ordered an immediate review of the 30 offshore drilling rigs and 47 production platforms operating in the deepwater Gulf, and is sending teams to conduct on-site inspections, the Times said.
The oil spill has the potential to become an environmental and economic disaster in the states it impacts. According to a Bloomberg report, the Louisiana coast, for example, includes 3 million acres of wetlands that serve as a nursery for game fish such as speckled trout and red drum, and are currently nurturing the brown shrimp crop to be harvested by the stateâ€™s fishing fleet.
Louisianaâ€™s seafood industry brings in annual retail sales of about $1.8 billion, while its sports fishing industry nets the state about $1 billion in sales every year. But the oil spill could cause long-term damage to the stateâ€™s marshes, severely damaging both industries. The marshes also are home to 5 million migratory birds, along with alligators, turtles and other species, Bloomberg said.