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Oil hits Louisiana coast, troops could be sent in

Reuters
8 min

The first oil from the leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico has hit the Louisiana coastline, according to local officials. The US government has declared a national catastrophe and is thinking of sending in troops to tackle up to 200,000 gallons of oil a day spewing into the sea.

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Strong south-east winds have blown a sheen of oil onto the wetlands of South Pass, near the mouth of the Mississipi River, Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, told the AFP news agency. 

British Petroleum, which leases the wrecked rig, is supposed to cap the well but making the cap is likely to take several weeks, according to RFI’s Washington correspondent Donaig Le Du.

Rough seas are making it practically impossible to keep the spill offshore, according to loca fishermen.

France 24  - Oil threatens ecosystem
France 24

 
After Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and called for urgent help, the White House declared the spill a national disaster, hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos that Hurricane Katrina brought to the US Gulf Coast in 2005.

“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.

Obama has sent Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar and Environment Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson to inspect operations aimed at protecting the area's environment.

Emergency services have tried to burn the spill, which is already 1,500m² and growing, but failed because the wind was against them, Le Du reports.

Ghislaine Llewellyn is the conservation manager for WWF Australia and was involved in the clean up operation for an oil spill of similar scale in the Timor Sea last year.

Ghislaine Llewellyn, conservation manager for WWF Australia

She praises the US policy of using containment methods rather than chemical dispersants. 

But the clean-up operation is likely to take months, she warns.

"Now we're looking at a very tricky engineering challenge, to drill a deep well that intercepts the leaking well," Llewellyn told RFI. 

"It's a little like trying to thread a needle underwater kilometres underground. It's good to see there are two rigs involved in this operation, but it's not going to happen overnight and we're lookking at the beginning of a major environmental disaster."

The leak has prompted calls to boycott BP and lawsuits by at least two shrimp fishing companies.

About 200,000 gallons of oil a day are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico after the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon rig, leased by BP. Eleven workers were killed and 17 injured. It could be the biggest such disaster since the Exxon Valdez tanker sank off Alaska 20 years ago, polluting 2,000 kilometres of coastline. What is at risk this time?

  •  Three US states – not just Louisiana but also Missisipi and Alabama are likely to be affected;
  • Wildlife living in the wetlands of the Mississipi delta, especially hundreds of breeds of marine birds including the brown pelican - Lousiana’s state symbol - which was taken off the endangered species list less than six months ago;
  • Fishing, which earns Lousiana 2.4 billion dollars (1.8 billion euros) a year, largely from shrimp, oysters and crabs;
  • BP, which already faces at least two lawsuits from shrimpers and is likely to face many more, along with calls for a boycott on Facebook;
  • Plans to drill on the Atlantic coast, which President Barack Obama proposed be opened for drilling in a speech last month, are facing new criticism from environment campaigners.

 

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