Gulf of Mexico spill worse than Exxon Valdez? New reports.
Oil on the Alaskan shoreline following the Exxon Valdez spill. Photo: Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources
President Obama is heading to the oil-ravaged Gulf Coast tomorrow as his administration tries to catch up with a rapidly developing political and environmental crisis.
What he faces is an uncertain catastrophe that's been building for nearly two weeks since an exploratory oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing a torrent of oil into gulf waters. The spill's disastrous potential became public Wednesday as authorities revealed that 200,000+ gallons of oil are blasting unchecked from the well hole and can't be controlled for weeks or months.<Update: Today, estimates of the spill grew exponentially, with some sources saying more than 10 million gallons are afloat—akin to the Exxon Valez disaster 21 years ago in Alaska. The reports suggest that leakage is many times more than the most recent offical estimates.>
Oil from the spill first hit Louisiana's barrier islands Thursday night and is being pushed by wind and tide onto a broad expanse of coastline. Assisted by a looping gulf current, the oil is expected to assault Florida's western coastline by Monday. In the last few days, it has tripled in size.
As The New York Times reports, the potential harm could range from moderate to catastrophic. The threat is imminent for two wildlife species that Earthjustice has fought to protect for years: sea turtles and bluefin tuna. But, there are at least 400 animal species that dwell in the gulf's oil-threatened coastal areas.
Perhaps the biggest variable is how long the undersea well hole will continue gushing oil, and how much actually is pouring into the sea. The latest estimate of 210,000 gallons daily could grow, and no one seems to have a handle on when it may be shut down—or how. Weeks? Months?
President Obama, meanwhile, faces growing pressure to abandon his plan to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling. As Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said yesterday, the gulf oil spill demonstrates the oil industry's inability to prevent and clean up offshore drilling spills.
For local reports from the scene, check out the website by Gulf Restoration Network.