Oil Comes Ashore in Gulf, Scale of 'Historic' Disaster Sets In

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ABC News

Oil Comes Ashore in Gulf, Scale of 'Historic' Disaster Sets In

Oil Hits Louisiana Shore, Federal Government Increases Response

by
Ned Potter, Ryan Owens and Kate McCarthy

Birds fly above land in Breton Sound off the coast of Louisiana on Thursday, while containment booms are in place to try to keep the oil spill at bay. (Liz Condo/Associated Press)

Oil from a collapsed offshore drilling platform oozed onto the
Louisiana coastline early Friday morning, threatening the worst
environmental disaster to hit the U.S. in two decades.

The oil began washing ashore where the Mississippi River hits
the coast. Louisiana is home to 40 percent of the United States'
wetlands and the oil now threatens some 400 species of animals. The
slick is threatening migrating birds, nesting pelicans and even river
otters and mink along Louisiana's fragile islands and barrier marshes.

Meanwhile, the White House announced Friday morning that there
will be no new offshore drilling until there is an "adequate review" of
what happened.

"No additional drilling has been authorized and none will until
we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique
and preventable here," White House senior advisor David Axelrod told
George Stephanopoulos on "GMA" today.

Three members of the president's cabinet are expected to
descend on the region today to observe the response efforts to contain
the massive oil spill that continues to leak thousands of barrels a day
into the Gulf.

The oil is leaking at a rate of 210,000 gallons per day. At
this rate it will surpass the Exxon Valdez spill, which released a
total of 11 million gallons of oil, in approximately 55 days, according
to Nancy Kinner, the co-director of Co-Director, Coastal Response
Research Center, UNH.

Overnight BP said it would make another attempt to stop the
flow of oil under the Gulf using chemical dispersants to break up the
oil at the well, a method which has never been used a mile underwater.

Yesterday the Obama administration labeled the spill as an event of "national significance."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during a White
House briefing that designating the spill as one of "national
significance" means that "we can now draw down assets from across the
country" to assist with cleanup.

She said 1,100 people are working on the cleanup effort, which
so far has collected 685,000 gallons of oil and water from the polluted
Gulf.

On Thursday the Coast Guard had predicted that oil could begin
to hit the Louisiana coastline as early as tonight. At the time, the
floating oil slick was just 3 miles from land and 25 miles from the
nearest populated area.

The White House said 174,060 feet of flotation booms had been
deployed to corral the floating oil. It said an additional 243,260 feet
is available and 265,460 feet has been ordered.

It said 76 tugs, barges and skimmers were on scene to help in
containment and cleanup, along with six fixed-wing aircraft, 11
helicopters, 10 remotely operated vehicles, and two mobile offshore
drilling units.

BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said the company
has been reviewing research on using chemical dispersants to break up
the oil -- pumping them all the way down to the leaking wellhead to
keep the crude from reaching the surface.

That's been done before, but never at such depths. The wellhead
is almost a mile underwater, 50 miles south of the mouth of the
Mississippi River.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry called it "a novel, absolutely novel idea."

At an afternoon event in the White House Rose Garden, President
Obama said that the federal government is prepared to assist with
cleanup efforts.

"While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of
response and cleanup operations, my administration will continue to use
every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially
the Department of Defense to address the incident," Obama said.

"I have ordered the secretaries of the Interior and Homeland
Security, as well as administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental
Protection Agency, to visit the site on Friday to ensure that BP and
the entire U.S. government is doing everything possible not just to
respond to this incident but also to determine its cause," the
president said.

 

Louisiana Declares State of Emergency

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency today because of the oil slick.

Meanwhile, Louisiana shrimpers filed a class-action lawsuit
against BP, the owners of the oil rig, and Halliburton, which they say
was working to cement the rig's well and well-cap. The suit claimed
that these companies and others were negligent in allowing the
explosion that led to the spill, which they claim now threatens their
livelihoods. They are asking for damages of at least $5 million.

Jindal said BP had agreed to allow local fishermen to assist in
the expected cleanup. Under the agreement, shrimpers and fishermen
could be contracted by BP to help. Jindal said the state was also
training prison inmates to help clean up wildlife harmed by oil slicks
moving toward shore.

Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, the
county closest to the spill, said he thought BP underestimated what's
about to come ashore and are only asking for help now that it may be
too late.

"We know the weather's coming. We know the wind is going to be
25 to 30 knots coming, blowing that oil into the bayous," he said.
"Somebody's got to be able to draw a line in the sand."

 

Cleanup Could Cost $8 Billion

With five times more oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico
than originally estimated and the price tag for last week's explosion
predicted at $8 billion, questions about BP's response and level of
responsibility are mounting.

BP's Suttles admitted some responsibility for the disaster
"because we're the lease holder," but assigning blame, he said, should
come after the cleanup.

"I can tell you we're not worried about that right now," he
said. "Who's ultimately responsible for what will come out over time
through an investigations process."

The new leak estimate is about 5,000 barrels a day, according
to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Suttles told ABC News he still believes it to be between 1,000 barrels -- the company's original estimate -- and 5,000.

The Deepwater Horizon rig
was reportedly not equipped with a shutoff switch that could have been
used to try to close the well. Such switches are not required in the
United States, but are used in other countries such as Norway and
Brazil.

But Suttles said the rig was equipped with some safety devices that should have prevented this kind of spill.

"They didn't do that, we don't know why they didn't do that and ultimately we will find out," he said.

Suttles was quick to point out that another company was operating the rig at the time of the explosion, not London-based BP.

"I can say that we had equipment required by the regulations,"
he said. "We don't know why, when the accident occurred, and I should
probably clarify, the lease we are drilling on is owed by BP and a few
other companies."

Parts of the massive spill were set on fire
Wednesday as part of an experiment to try and stop the oil slick from
reaching the coastline. Officials said the burn worked, but it was too
windy today to try it again.

As the oil approached the coastline, biologists said it threatened as many as 400 species, including sea turtles and dolphins.

One ray of hope is that about 30 percent of an oil slick usually
evaporates in the strong southern sun, and microbes and waves take care
of another large portion.

"Mother nature does a much better job at cleaning up than we do
of picking up," said Ed Levine, an oceanographer with the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

 

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: Slick Close to Shore

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, operated by BP Oil and owned by
Transocean Ltd., exploded and started burning April 20. Eleven rig
workers were never found and are presumed to have died.

BP and its contractors are fighting a high-stakes battle to keep the spill from getting worse. They have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to cover the leaking wellhead with a dome or close it with a submersible robot.

Oil from the area is called light sweet crude, but Edward
Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental science at Louisiana
State University, said the name is deceptive. It contains heavy
compounds, called asphaltenes, that do not burn easily or evaporate,
even in the warm climate off Louisiana.

"When you've got a spill like this," said Overton, "there are
three things you can do. You can burn it, scoop it up out of the water,
or use chemical dispersants to break it up. This oil is not
particularly good with any of those three."

"With light crude," he said, "you could burn most of it -- 70
or 80 percent. With heavy crude, I don't know. I'm not optimistic."

ABC News' Matt Gutman, Jake Tapper and Sam Champion provided
additional information. ABC News Radio and The Associated Press
contributed to this report.

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