BP Oil leak approaches Louisiana coast, containment efforts escalate

David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the Associated Press that the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is “of grave concern” to him.

“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.”

Long stretches of the crude oil have been creeping north from the leak, situated about 50 miles south of Venice, Louisiana and a mile under the surface after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank last week. The rig was owned and operated by Transocean and under contract to BP when the explosion occurred.

Yesterday, researchers discovered that the leak has been allowing 5 times more oil to escape than originally estimated – 210,000 gallons per day as opposed to the previous estimate of 42,000 gallons.

The U.S. Coast Guard said that the public has reported the oil coming ashore in Louisiana’s Pass-a-Loutre wildlife reserve and was dispatching investigators for confirmation. The oil was expected to hit land at Venice and Port Fourchon, Louisiana some time today. Officials said they are doing everything possible to keep the Mississippi River and its ports open to traffic.

The Port of South Louisiana, under direct threat from the encroaching oil mass, is the busiest port in the Western Hemisphere and the 9th largest port in the world. Any disruption to trade activity could have disastrous consequences on the already wobbly U.S. economy.

Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Charlie Crist of Florida both have declared states of emergency for their states.

Today, Governor Jindal sent a letter to the Department of Commerce requesting the declaration of a commercial fisheries failure and sought federal financial assistance from the Economic Development Administration for commercial and recreational fishing businesses and individual fishermen.

Governor Crist declared a state of emergency in six Gulf counties – Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, and Gulf – saying that the oil leak “threatens the state of Florida with a major disaster.”

The Coast Guard and U.S. military have deployed booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants to try to control the spill, and controlled fires have been set to burn the oil off the water’s surface. Once crude has been burned, it resembles a clump of asphalt and can be more easily removed from the water or land.

The oil leak couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Millions of migratory birds occupy the Mississippi River delta at this time of year. Thousands of endangered sea turtles take to the shores to lay their eggs. Many fish species have begun to lay eggs and spawn. Shrimp and shellfish seasons were just beginning for thousands of people who make a living from the Gulf’s natural resources.

Nobody has been able to give a clear idea of how long it will take to seal the leak. Technicians have attempted to close the leak using submersible robots, but their efforts have so far failed.

Experts say that the leak could become the worst environmental disaster in the U.S. if efforts to stop the leak in 8-12 weeks fail, dwarfing Alaska’s Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. In the Valdez disaster, nearly 11 million gallons of oil were spilled into the pristine Price William Sound, Alaska. Economic, environmental, and legal implications from the Valdez spill continue more then 20 years later.