President Barack Obama visited Southern Louisiana yesterday to see first hand the efforts underway to contain the massive oil spill that threatens the region’s delicate ecosystem. While there, the President warned that the spill was a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster” that could take quite some time to stop.
Oil continues to gush from the stricken well into the Gulf of Mexico, following a massive explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig nearly two weeks ago. Eleven crew members who have been missing since the April 20 blast are presumed dead. Already, oil has made it into Louisiana’s wetlands, and officials in Mississippi and Alabama say oil could make landfall along beaches in those states today. Even Florida is at risk.
The best case scenario is that the well will continue spewing more than 200,000 gallons per day for the next week. BP, which leased Deepwater Horizon from TransOcean LTD and is responsible for the spill, is building 74-ton, concrete-and-metal boxes that it hopes to lower into the ocean to capture the leaking oil and siphon it to a barge waiting at the surface. However, this system has never been tried in such deep water before, so it is unclear if it will work. If the boxes do not work, then the well will likely continue gushing for months.
Even if the well is shut off in a week, fishermen and wildlife officials wonder how long it will take for the Gulf to recover. Already, the oil spill is wreaking havoc with the Gulf Coast economy. Over the weekend, federal officials closed more than 6,800 square miles of fishing areas for at least 10 days. Commercial fisherman and shrimpers; seafood producers, processors, and packagers; dock and marina owners; charter boat operators, and any business associated with Gulf Coast tourism faces the possibility of economic devastation if the spill is not contained soon.
Shipping could also be impacted soon, as transport through the Mississippi River’s Southwest Pass could be limited or slowed. Vessels could face delays because they need to be cleaned of oil before docking, or because water lanes are shut down for a time.
Wildlife is expected to take a serious hit. Already, as many as 200 dead sea turtles have washed up on the coast of Mississippi. According to The New York Times, officials in Louisiana fear that a massive influx of oil could overwhelm and kill off the grasses that are vital to sustaining life in the coastal marshes there. Those marshes are already stressed, the Times said, and there are fears that this oil spill could become the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
According to The Associated Press, during his visit yesterday, Obama promised that his administration was doing all it could to mitigate the disaster. But the President also said BP would be required to pay for the entire cleanup operation.