Oil spill heads for US coast

April 30th, 2010 - 12:58 am ICT by IANS  

Bobby Jindal Washington, April 29 (DPA) US officials Thursday declared the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico to be of “national significance,” signalling the full engagement by the federal government and possibly the military in containing the damage.

A mammoth crude oil slick from three leaks in a BP exploratory well was headed to the fragile wetlands along the Louisiana shore near the Mississippi River delta, officials said.

It was expected to arrive by later Thursday, the Louisiana state government said, faster than original estimates of a Friday landfall.

Among the most vulnerable wildlife were the shrimp, oysters and birds along the coast. Louisiana officials said they would open a special early shrimp season at 6 pm Thursday along the Breton and Chandeleur Sounds to allow fishing boats to harvest as many shrimp as possible before the oil reaches the area.

Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana stressed that Louisiana seafood - a major industry along the coast - is currently safe to eat.

The United States expects BP to comply with the law by reimbursing the government for its response to the spill.

“BP is ultimately responsible,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “BP is required to fund the cost of the response and cleanup operations and they are doing so.”

The estimated rate of leakage from the damaged well was raised to 5,000 barrels a day Thursday, five times more than the 1,000 barrels a day previously feared spilling, BP confirmed.

The three leaks followed an explosion on an exploratory rig in the Gulf last week that killed 11 rig workers before it sank. The leaks are equivalent to nearly 800,000 litres of crude oil per day, a rough estimate issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The resulting brownish slick has moved near enough to the Louisiana Mississippi River delta to be spotted by a local ship captain about 6 kilometres off shore, said Damen McKnight, who owns a tour company that takes out fishing boats with tourists.

Several branches of the US government were mobilizing to contain the spill, including the Coast Guard, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and possibly the military.

The US military’s Northern Command was reviewing ways it could help in the effort but has yet to receive a request, said Stacey Knott, a spokeswoman for the Colorado-based command.

“Northern Command is looking at where military assets could be used for assistance,” she said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said while the immediate focus is on addressing the spill and minimizing ecological damage, the US government will ensure that taxpayers are reimbursed for the cost.

Napolitano said the disaster will be declared as one of “national significance,” which triggers a government ability to rush emergency assets to the scene and centralize the response.

Napolitano said 685,000 gallons of oily water have been collected and that there are ongoing operations to skim the water for oil or burn it off. Meanwhile, barriers were being laid off the shores of the southern states to help prevent the oil from reaching land.

Napolitano and other top officials were to depart Washington to the region to help coordinate the response.

To protect the coastline as much as possible, more than 40,000 metres of floating yellow and orange booms - connected like sausage links - have been deployed off the coast, said Cory Mendenhall of the US Coast Guard.

Managers of shoreline wildlife refuges were preparing to herd birds away from the shoreline with fireworks and other noise devices before the slick makes landfall. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said it may work with corrections officials to to train prisoners to help clean birds that may be impacted by the oil.

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