The disastrous Gulf Oil spill may cause more damage than the Exxon Valdez calamity:
Migrating birds and those along the shoreline, nesting pelicans and even river otters and mink along Louisiana’s fragile islands and barrier marshes are the first in the path of a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill that was starting to ooze ashore.
The leak from a blown-out well a mile underwater is five times bigger than first believed. Faint fingers of oily sheen were reaching the Mississippi River delta late Thursday, lapping the Louisiana shoreline in long, thin lines. Thicker oil was about five miles offshore. Officials have said they would do everything to keep the Mississippi River open to traffic.
The oil slick could become the nation’s worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez in scope. It imperils hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world’s richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.
“It is of grave concern,” David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press about the spill. “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.”
Oil clumps seabirds’ feathers, leaving them without insulation – and when they preen, they swallow it. Prolonged contact with the skin can cause burns, said Nils Warnock, a spill recovery supervisor with the California Oiled Wildlife Care Network at the University of California. Oil swallowed by animals can cause anemia, hemorrhaging and other problems, said Jay Holcomb, executive director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center in California.
Resources from the United States Navy were marshaled to supplement an operation that already consisted of more than 1,000 people and scores of vessels and aircraft.
Calling it “a spill of national significance” which could threaten coastline in several states, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the creation of a second command post in Mobile, Ala., in addition to the one in Louisiana, to manage potential coastal impact in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered an immediate review of the 30 offshore drilling rigs and 47 production platforms operating in the deepwater Gulf, and is sending teams to conduct on-site inspections.
The oil slick was only three miles offshore on Thursday afternoon and was expected to hit coastal Louisiana as early as Thursday night, prompting Gov. Bobby Jindal to declare a state of emergency and to request the participation of the National Guard in response efforts. An eyewitness late Thursday night reported a sheer film of oil approaching South Pass of the Mississippi river delta, but it had not yet reached the shoreline. The Coast Guard could not confirm whether oil was beginning to wash onto shore, and likely would not be able to do so until daylight.
About 40,000 feet of boom had been placed around Pass-a-Loutre, the area of the Mississippi River Delta where the oil was expected to touch first, a spokesman for Mr. Jindal said.
The Navy provided 50 contractors, 7 skimming systems and 66,000 feet of inflatable containment boom, a spokesman said. About 210,000 feet of boom had been laid down to protect the shoreline in several places along the Gulf Coast, though experts said that marshlands presented a far more daunting cleaning challenge than sandy beaches.