U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday an oil spill in Gulf of Mexico is a disaster of “national significance,” and the government is working to minimize its effect.
Napolitano also said that British oil giant BP, which leases the Deepwater Horizon platform that sank into the ocean last week, should be responsible for the damage.
“As the president and the law made clear, BP is the responsible party.
It is required to fund the cost of the response and clean- up operations,” she said with other top officials at a special White house briefing on the oil spill that might cause environmental disaster if not well addressed.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs meanwhile told reporters that President Barack Obama received a 20-minute update on the spill at his daily briefing in the Oval Office.
“We will use all available resources, possibly including those at the Department of Defense,” said Gibbs.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on Thursday declared a state of emergency due to the oil spill that could be disastrous for the state’s coastal environment and fisheries industry.
The declaration enables the state to ask for more federal aid and mobilize state resources to better prepare for the potential catastrophe.
An explosion occurred last Tuesday at the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast. 11 workers were presumed dead. The Coast Guard initially said no oil appeared to be fleeing from the well on the ocean floor, but officials found oil was leaking Saturday.
According to the Coast Guard, approximately 5,000 barrels of oil is spilling from the rig into the Gulf of Mexico a day — five times BP’s earlier estimate.
The race is on to stop the Louisiana oil leak becoming the worst in US history. Experts now say the oil well is spilling 5,000 barrels a day, equivalent to 800,000 litres. A state of emergency has now been declared, as the slick is likely to have a devastating effect on the seabirds and marine life that inhabit those waters.
BP’s plan to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil leak with a big metal box was fraught with unknowns and potential problems, it was reported on Sunday.
Gas hydrates — slushy crystal formations of natural gas and water that form under pressure — had plugged the opening at the top of the box that is supposed to funnel the oil geyser into pipes connected to a ship, the Los Angeles Times said, quoting BP officials.
“I wouldn’t say it’s failed yet. But what we attempted to do last night didn’t work,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer.
BP had spent Friday lowering the specially built containment dome, which resembles a squat, four-story building, from a ship to the gulf floor nearly a mile (1.6 kilometer) below. It succeeded in placing the device over the main leak, a crumpled riser pipe that broke during the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion April 20.
But not long after the structure was in place, hydrates formed at its top. A crane positioned on a ship then moved it about 600 feet from the leak, where it is resting on the seafloor while BP tries to devise a remedy, the report said. Company engineers had anticipated that hydrates clogging the pipe system would be their biggest challenge, but they thought the hole at the top of the metal structure was too large to be blocked.
The hydrates, which fizz when brought to the surface, can be easily dislodged by raising the dome. But BP teams have to figure out how to prevent them from forming again at the leak’s 5,000- foot depth, according to the report.
They are trying to figure out whether there is “a way to overcome this problem,” Suttles said.
Containment devices have been used before, but never at such deep depths. “We’re doing things we’ve never done before and it’s difficult to know if they’ll work,” Suttles said.
Meanwhile, tar balls were beginning to wash up on Alabama’s Dauphin Island, a Gulf Coast playground, the report quoted the Coast Guard as saying.
If the black gobs prove to be oil, it would be the easternmost landfall from the BP oil slick, which so far has proved to be more of a threat to Louisiana and Mississippi, the report said.
A half-dozen balls had been found, and the substance was being analyzed but is believed to be part of the oil spill, the report quoted Alabama officials as saying.
Since the rig explosion April 20, about 200,000 thousands of gallons of crude has been spewing into the Gulf each day.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Monday determined there has been a fishery disaster in the Gulf of Mexico due to the economic impact on commercial and recreational fisheries from the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The affected area includes the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
“We are taking this action today because of the potentially significant economic hardship this spill may cause fishermen and the businesses and communities that depend on those fisheries,” Locke said in a statement.
“The disaster determination will help ensure that the Federal government is in a position to mobilize the full range of assistance that fishermen and fishing communities may need,” he said.
The declaration was made in response to requests from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour based on the loss of access to many commercial fisheries and the existing and anticipated environmental damage from this unprecedented event.
Commercial fishermen in the Gulf harvested more than 1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2008. In addition, there are approximately 5.7 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico region who took 25 million fishing trips in 2008.
Since May 2, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has closed a portion of federal waters affected by the spill to commercial and recreational fishing.
This closure area, which is based on the scientific trajectory of the spill, now includes about 19 percent of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi and the waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay.
The first hurricane of the season is called Alex. It is classified as Category 1 and its winds record 120 km / h. Not very powerful, but it has something more sinister that previous hurricanes had not: the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and it is precisely in this region that this hurricane is expected to strike.
At this moment in time the storm covers one third of the western Gulf. The hurricane’s eye right now is 145 miles east of La Pesca, and 190 miles southeast of Brownsville, Texas, USA. It moves to the northwest at 10 km/h.
There are hurricane warnings in some areas (between La Cruz, Mexico, and northern Baffin Bay, Texas, USA) and Tropical Storm warnings between Baffin Bay South and Port O’Connor, Texas, and between La Cruz and Cabo Rojo. The storm is expected to hit land during the night of Wednesday or Thursday morning. Then we shall see what an ecological disaster is.