State and federal government officials, officials with oil giant BP, state biologists, and fishermen are frantically working to try to hold back a massive oil spill that continues to encroach on Louisiana’s coastline. The oil has been gushing from a well 5,000 feet below the Gulf of Mexico’s surface since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20. Oil is spilling out at a rate of 210,000 gallons per day, an estimate five times greater than originally reported. Commercial fishers have been helping to set oil booms along the coastline to try to contain the spreading oil and protect their livelihoods.
The April 20 oil rig explosion left 11 workers missing and presumed dead. BP’s chief operating officer says that workers on the rig activated the blowout preventer (a series of shut-off valves connected to the wellhead) before the explosion, but it didn’t seal all the way. Since the explosion, numerous efforts to activate the blowout preventer with a robotic submarine have been similarly unsuccessful.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has created models to predict the path of the spreading oil and they say at least 10 state and national wildlife management areas and wildlife refuges in Louisiana and Mississippi are in its path. The secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says that bird nesting grounds and wildlife habitats in the Breton Sound area are in danger of contamination.
BP has been trying different methods to try and clean up the oil before it reaches the coast, such as burning oil on the water’s surface to cause it to harden into a ball to be removed and using underwater dispersants to break up the spill before it reaches the water’s surface. BP’s chief operating officer says that 34 miles of booms were in place by Thursday afternoon and 60 more miles are on hand.
State officials fear that winds, high waves, and high tides expected over the next few days will cause the oil to blow over boom lines. Representative Sam Jones, D-Franklin, has said he’s worried that officials of the state and BP have concentrated more on policies for environmental land contamination clean-up rather than prevention. He’s also worried that officials have been to slow to respond and prevent the oil from coming ashore.
President Obama has announced that, while BP is ultimately responsible for the response and clean-up costs, his administration will do whatever it can to help in the efforts, possibly including the involvement of the Department of Defense.