Gulf Oil Spill Touches Louisiana Coast

ROBERT, Louisiana, April 30, 2010 (ENS) – Oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico has made landfall on the coast of Louisiana. Spilling from a broken wellhead on the seafloor at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day, the oily mess expected to hit the Delta and Breton National Wildlife Refuges before reaching the mainland.

The Department of Homeland Security has declared the Deepwater Horizon incident a “spill of national significance” and multiple agencies are mobilizing to control the oil, which now has spread across an area at least 100 miles long by 45 miles wide.

A spill of national significance is “a spill that, due to its severity, size, location, actual or potential impact on the public health and welfare or the environment, or the necessary response effort, is so complex that it requires extraordinary coordination of federal, state, local, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up the discharge” and allows greater federal involvement.

Containment boom is staged at the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana, where brown pelicans nest. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Officials say this spill is unprecedented – they have never encountered oil leaking from a well on the seafloor a mile below the surface.

Two major response centers are working on this spill – one operated by the Unified Command at Robert, Louisiana, and one operated by BP at Houma, Louisiana. In total, more than 3,000 people are responding to the spill in one way or another and thousands more are expected to join the response team shortly.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today approved Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s request to mobilize 6,000 National Guard troops in response to the massive spill.

Other Gulf states also are preparing for a potential call for thousands of National Guard members. Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas reported they are in close contact with state and federal officials and are ready to respond with Guard personnel and equipment to assist in their communities.

Secretary Gates also authorized two Air Force Reserve C-130H aircraft to spray chemical dispersants to break up the oil that threatens wetlands and beaches along the Gulf coast. Weather currently is hampering the aircraft from operating, a Defense Department spokesman said, but flights could begin as soon as tomorrow.

The spill began when the well broke on April 20 after the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire as workers were attempting to cap a test well they had drilled to 18,000 feet below the sea floor, located about 51 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana.

Federal on-scene coordinator U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as they conduct an aerial survey of the Gulf coast. April 30, 2010 (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Mendenhall courtesy USCG)

The rig sank on April 22 and now lies about 1,500 feet from the open wellhead. Oil is also leaking from two other locations along the piping.

Remotely operated subs have not been able to close off the flow of oil by triggering the blowout preventer, a series of valves located at the wellhead.

The Deepwater Horizon is owned by Transocean, Ltd., a Swiss corporation, and was contracted to BP, a British corporation, which is the party responsible for paying the costs of response and cleanup operations.

President Barack Obama said today in Washington that he has sent the secretaries of interior and homeland security, as well as the administrator of the EPA, his assistant for energy and climate change policy, and the NOAA administrator to the Gulf coast to ensure that the administration continues to do everything necessary to respond to this event. He expects their reports from the scene today.

“I’ve ordered [Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar to conduct a thorough review of this incident and report back to me in 30 days on what, if any, additional precautions and technologies should be required to prevent accidents like this from happening again. And we’re going to make sure that any leases going forward have those safeguards,” Obama said.

“We’ve also dispatched teams to the Gulf to inspect all deepwater rigs and platforms to address safety concerns,” he said.

Today, the Minerals Management Service began conducting immediate inspections of all 30 deepwater drilling rigs and 47 deepwater production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Inspectors are charged with ensuring that tests of blowout preventer stacks have been completed, related records are available for inspection, and that emergency well control exercises are taking place. MMS inspectors should complete inspections of deepwater drilling rigs within seven days; then they will immediately start inspecting all deepwater production platforms.

Salazar announced establishment of a new Outer Continental Shelf Safety Board that will conduct a full review of offshore drilling safety and technology issues, and further tighten oversight of industry equipment testing.

“In this 11th day of the massive, coordinated response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, we must continue to do everything we can to oversee and support BP’s efforts to stop and clean up the oil that is spilling from the wellhead,” said Salazar, during a visit to both command centers with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. “At the same time, we must take aggressive action to verify the safety of other offshore oil and gas operations, further tighten our oversight of industry’s practices, and take a careful look at all the questions that this disaster is raising.”

Skimmer vessels are taking upsome of the massive oil spill. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Prentice Danner courtesy USCG)

NOAA experts are assisting the Unified Command in evaluating a new technique to apply chemical dispersants to oil at the source – 5,000 feet below the surface. If successful this would keep plumes and sheens from forming.

On the surface of the Gulf, dispersants are still being aggressively applied. Over 100,000 gallons have been applied.

A test burn of surface oil late Wednesday was successful; approximately 100 barrels of oil were burned in about 45 minutes, but not further burns have taken place. Additional efforts are planned contingent on good weather, NOAA said today.

Skimmer vessels using a high volume skimming system have been collecting oily water on the surface of the Gulf. Nearly a million gallons of oil-water mix have been collected to date.

Work continues on a piping system designed to take oil from a collection dome at the sea floor to tankers on the surface, but this technique has never been tried at such a depth. Drilling of a relief or cut-off well is still planned, but will not be complete for several months.

Contracted workers from U.S. Environmental Services organize boom for deployment at the Venice, Louisiana, staging area. (Photo by Marc Morrison courtesy USCG)

On shore, sensitive areas are being pre-boomed. Over 217,000 feet of boom have been deployed, and another 300,000 feet are staged for deployment.

NOAA efforts have included: getting pre-impact samples surveys and baseline measurements, planning for open water and shoreline remediation, modeling the trajectory and extent of the oil, supporting the Unified Command as it analyzes new techniques for handling the spill. Natural Resource Damage Assessment activities are also underway.

Governor Jindal has requested a fisheries disaster declaration from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke that would provide economic compensation for small businesses in the fishing and maritime industries that will be impacted by the oil spill.

“In coastal Louisiana our communities are driven by three primary industries that provide great benefit to the nation’s commerce – ports/maritime, energy and fishing – all vital employers, important components of our state’s coastal economy and national economic output,” wrote Governor Jindal.

“The waters offshore Louisiana’s coast supply nearly one-third of all commercial seafood harvested in the lower 48 states, with values in excess of $2.85 billion. As the largest provider of domestic seafood in the continental United States, protection of Louisiana’s fisheries, habitats and catch are critical to our nation’s economy and food supply,” the governor wrote.

In addition, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the commercial fisherman in Louisiana.

Filed today in federal district court in Louisiana, the lawsuit names three BP companies, three Transocean comapnies, Magistrate Drilling, Halliburton Energy Services, Cameron International, and Cooper Cameron Corp.

Shrimp boats like this one will be unable to harvest due to the oil spill. (Photo by New Orleans Lady)

The plaintiffs are commercial shrimpers Acy J. Cooper and Ronnie Louis Anderson, who represent the entire class of shrimpers who are being affected by the massive spill.

The lawsuit alleges that Cameron manufactured and/or supplied the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventers that failed to operate upon the explosion, which should have prevented the oil spill. “The BOP’s were defective because they failed to operate as intended. As such, Cameron is liable to Plaintiffs and the Class Members pursuant to the Louisiana Products Liability Act in addition to being liable for its negligence,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit further alleges that Halliburton was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap and, “improperly and negligently performed these duties, increasing the pressure at the well and contributing to the fire, explosion and resulting oil spill.”

The state of Louisiana allowed shrimpers to start an early season today to get ahead of oil impacts.

Migratory birds and sea turtles are likely to be harmed by the oil spill and whales have been sighted near the oil slick during official assessment flights.

NOAA’s Assessment and Restoration Division, ARD, is evaluating concerns about potential injuries of oil and dispersants to fishes, human use of fisheries, marine mammals, turtles, and sensitive resources.

ARD is coordinating with Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to evaluate plankton and trawl sampling efforts, and baseline aerial surveys to assess marine life were conducted today with personnel from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

President Obama said today he stands behind his decision to allow more oil drilling in U.S. coastal waters. He said, “I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security, but I’ve always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment, the local economies and livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast as well as the ecology of the region are at stake.”

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