Friday, April 30, 2010

US fights to defend fragile coast from big oil spill

Matthew Bigg in Reuters: The U.S. government scrambled on Friday to ward off an environmental disaster that could cost billions of dollars as a huge oil spill reached coastal Louisiana, imperiling shrimp fishing grounds, oyster beds and fragile wetlands with a rich variety of wildlife.

With oil gushing unchecked from a ruptured deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, President Barack Obama's administration heaped pressure on London-based energy giant BP, the majority owner of the blown-out well, to do more to shut off the flow and contain the spreading slick.

Obama, mindful of public criticism of President George W. Bush's handling of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, sent several top officials to Louisiana to assess preparations for the cleanup effort. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he had told BP to "work harder and faster and smarter to get the job done." "We cannot rest and we will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead and cleans up every drop of oil," Salazar said in Louisiana.

Crude oil is pouring out at a rate of up to 5,000 barrels a day,liters according to government estimates, but experts said the quantity of crude escaping was difficult to measure. Forecasters predict the spill will soon invade the coastlines of Mississippi as well as Alabama and Florida, which both declared states of emergency.

So far, efforts to plug the oil leak have failed. If unchecked, it will take about 50 days to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, the worst U.S. oil spill, which sent 10.8 million gallons (49 million liters) of crude oil into Alaska's pristine Prince William Sound….

NASA image of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

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