Oil rig spill moving toward Louisiana coast, leaving a wake of loss
NASA image of the oil slick as it approaches Louisiana's ecologically fragile coast
As a crude oil spill bigger than West Virginia wreaks havoc on the Gulf of Mexico’s underwater ecosystems and makes its way to the U.S. shore, a rescue task force continues unsuccessfully to contain the pipes and seal off the leak caused by a giant oil rig explosion last week which took 11 lives.
News reports say that officials—who are about to set the slick on fire in an effort to contain it before it hits shore and devastates the fragile ecosystems there—fear that this could become one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history.
“If this oil reaches the coast, there will be some pretty severe impacts to these habitats,” said Tom Minello, a Galveston-based ecologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, in a Houston Chronicle report on the spill’s impact on endangered species and prized fisheries yesterday.
The Coast Guard is predicting the spill will hit U.S. shores in three days, and when it does, it will endanger southeast Louisiana, home to some 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands and the nation’s second oldest wildlife refuge, the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. This area provides habitat for endangered species including the brown pelican, least tern, and piping plover, as well as 23 species of seabirds and shorebirds, and hundreds of other species of wildlife.
All of this while the pipes of the rig that exploded last week are still leaking 42,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico and threatening an astonishing range of sea life, including endangered sperm whales (three were spotted near the spill this week); western Atlantic bluefin tuna, a protected species; sea turtles; migratory birds; shrimp; and Louisiana’s $300 million-a-year oyster business.
For shock-inducing photos, see TIME’s slideshow. For helpful maps and diagrams, see the BBC’s coverage.
Tragically, there isn’t a better case against offshore drilling.