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<Update: AP reports that Interior Sec. Ken Salazar has halted the issuance of new offshore oil drilling leases nationwide until at least the end of the month. Here's how the New York Times sees Salazar's action playing out with reard to Shell Oil's plans to drill this summer in the Arctic.>

The Obama administration has been hinting for days that it might reverse course on its support for offshore oil drilling—and today it took the first real step in that direction. Shaken by the uncontrolled Gulf oil spill, the Interior Department has suspended plans for an oil and gas lease sale off the Virginia coastline.

Greenwire reports:

The move comes as the department seeks answers from investigations into the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the ongoing leak of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil every day into the Gulf.

All too aware of the oil spill disaster playing out in the Gulf, Native Alaskans are in court today, determined to keep the same thing from happening in Arctic waters they call home.

Timing is critical, as Shell Oil is poised to start drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas as early as July. Represented by Earthjustice, the 13 Native Alaskan and conservation groups are hoping to convince a federal court that the federal government illegally granted Shell a permit to drill.

Dear President,

It must be tough trying to keep up with all that's being written about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The words are gushing out faster than those 210,000 gallons of oil. Everyone seems to have an opinion, but like British Petroleum and the rest of the oil industry, no one seems to have a solution for fixing the leak or ending our nation's addiction to oil.

But, if you want some crystal clear advice on how to lead the nation out of this mess, there's one writer out there who really nailed it. So, here's our advice—read Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times. His first words are these:

There is only one meaningful response to the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that is for America to stop messing around when it comes to designing its energy and environmental future. The only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean-energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.

That's just a tease of what Tom has to say. He makes so much sense that national television news programs have been interviewing him today. Check it out, Mr. President. And while you are at it, you might want to check out what the Earthjustice president has to say about this issue.

<Update: The Washington Post also is reporting on today's attempt to contain the spill.>

<Update: AP reports that the containment vessel has arrived at the scene of the spill.>

In just a few hours, a giant dome—even now being hauled by boat through oil-thick Gulf of Mexico waters—will be in position and ready to lower onto the gushing British Petroleum oil well leak. If it works, the well's 200,000+ gallons will be contained, enabling BP to siphon it into ships.

There is nothing sure about this. It's stricly experimental. Never been tried before. And BP officials are openly crossing their fingers. After failing for two weeks to even slow down the gusher, this is their best hope. If it fails, many more weeks of unrestrained oil flow will pour into gulf waters, adding to a vast, menacing area of oil bigger than Puerto Rico.

Anxious residents of four gulf coast states aren't counting on something miraculous from this dome procedure—they are too busy preparing for what's already spilled and headed their way. BP doesn't have a solution for oil churned by wind and waves into a frothy chocolately mousse that threatens to destroy livelihoods and wildlife linked to the sea.

<Update: There's only one cure for man-made oil spills, says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman: man-made legislation that ends our dependence on oil.>

One of three leaks from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been capped, according to news reports, but there is no apparent slowdown in escaping oil, and that report came with a warning that the spill could increase exponentially if containment measures fail.

Oil is flooding from the sea floor at an estimated 210,000 gallons daily since an oil rig exploded two weeks ago at a British Petroleum offshore drilling site. Yesterday, after a meeting with BP executives, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) said they warned him that oil flow could grow to as much as 2 million gallons a day. BP is hoping to put an experimental dome over the leak, a mile below the ocean surface, this week.

Meanwhile, four coastal states were bracing to protect themselves against the main body of oil, amid predictions that it will start coming ashore within three days. <Update: Frantic efforts are being made to protect fragile coastal areas teeming with wildlife and directly in the path of the oil spill.>

<Update: Check out the Gulf Restoration Network website for local reports on the oil spill.>

Senators who thought they could pass a climate change bill by selling our offshore waters to oil drillers may be cringing over their poor timing, if not bad judgment, two weeks into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

As oil from the spill continues to flow unabated at 200,000+ gallons each day—creating a potentially "unprecedented" environmental catastrophe in President Obama's words—there are at least mutterings from Senate leaders over the spill's political impact:

"This terrible event will, undoubtedly, require us to re-examine how we extract our nation's offshore energy resources and will have to be taken into consideration with any legislation that proposes to open new areas to development," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday.

"The offshore drilling issue is being reconsidered by many at this point," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters yesterday.

 

<Update: the public interest journalism group, ProPublica, is reporting that the chemical dispersants used in the Gulf oil spill are toxic and "could create a new set of environmental problems.">

<Update: Scientist says chemical dispersants can make the oil spill even worse.>

Scientists using oil dispersal chemicals seem to be playing a juggling match with onshore and offshore wildlife in the target zone of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

They are reporting some success in keeping oil away from shore-based wildlife and the extensive complex of wetlands in which they live. But by doing so, they are forcing the dispersed oil into other creatures' habitat—such as deep water seabeds. Is one harm less harmful than another? Here's how the Los Angeles Times reports it:

Scientists don't know much about the oil's ultimate effect in the deep water, but most agree that it will have a much larger biological effect if it reaches the coast, which is teeming with wildlife.

"You're transferring the pollution, if you will, but under the right circumstances it's probably favorable," said E. Eric Adams, who specializes in environmental fluid mechanics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

 

The latest casualty of the Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill is... offshore oil drilling. At least in California. The state's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenneger, today withdrew his own proposal to resume oil drilling off California. Swayed by images of the gulf spill, Schwarzenneger said:

"I see on TV the birds drenched in oil, the fisherman out of work, the massive oil spill and oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem. That will not happen here in California, and this is why I am withdrawing my support."

One can only hope that President Barack Obama sees the same images in the same light and reverses his support of renewed offshore drilling—especially in fragile areas like the Arctic Ocean, where Shell Oil is poised to sink exploratory wells as early as July 1... with Obama's blessing.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.