Last updated: April 30, 2010 8:11 am

Oil slick threatens US Gulf Coast

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The US was braced on Friday for oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico to hit its shoreline, threatening an environmental disaster across four southern US states.

Louisiana declared a state of emergency as the slick neared the coast, threatening wildlife and fishing grounds. The US military might be deployed to help contain the leak.

Booms have been stretched around the most sensitive wildlife areas and the shrimp season has opened early in hope of harvesting some seafood before it becomes contaminated.

The Obama administration on Thursday stepped up its response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, designating it an event “of national significance” as rescue workers struggled to stop the oil from washing ashore on the Louisiana coast on Friday.

The move will free up money and resources from around the country to fight the slick caused by last week’s explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which appears to be leaking five times as much oil as was previously feared.


“While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defense, to address the incident,” President Barack Obama said on Thursday.

The spill has complicated Mr Obama’s plan to lift some restrictions on US domestic offshore drilling for oil, a concession he made to try to win Republican support for a long-awaited climate change bill.

It also deals another blow to BP, which operated the rig that exploded last week, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead. A blast at the company’s Texas City, Texas, refinery in 2005 killed 15 people.

BP shares fell 7 per cent on Thursday over concerns about clean-up costs.

The US Coast Guard on Wednesday night said that 5,000 barrels of oil per day could be leaking into the ocean from the site. It had previously put the leak at 1,000 barrels per day.

At the higher rate it would take less than two months for as much oil to be spilt as in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.

Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretary, said the spill was a “major incident”, but the extent of damage was not known. “The difference with the Valdez is that the Valdez was a knowable quantity of oil because it was a ship. This is leakage from a well,” she said.

BP has been working on the clean-up with oil companies and government agencies. Crews tested a controlled burn-off of oil on Wednesday but suspended the effort on Thursday due to sea and wind conditions.

They have also been using skimmer ships and spraying dispersants from aircraft. About 70 vessels, six aircraft and 1,700 personnel are involved.

The Department of the Interior will send teams to the Gulf of Mexico to test other
platforms and rigs, part of an investigation to ensure that all oil companies are adhering to standards for oil drilling.

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