Oil spill: Gulf of Mexico disaster 'growing by the moment'
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has tripled in size in 24 hours. Company officials remain confident that they can contain it before it hits land, but environmentalists are increasingly doubtful.
Capping the renegade wellhead spewing 42,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico will take an unprecedented effort by British Petroleum and federal agencies, who face mounting difficulties to contain the oil spill that threatens both environmental and political disaster.Skip to next paragraph
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The explosion, the sinking, and now the spill from the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig couldn't have come at a worse time for President Obama and other proponents of expanding deepwater oil exploration off the US.
Though the accident is largely an aberration for the industry, which has made significant safety improvements during the past 40 years, it has raised tensions in states that could be affected by the president's decision last month to expand offshore drilling.
"This is really sort of one of the nightmares for all the companies involved, and obviously the people who live along the coast are sort of helpless," says Tyler Priest, an oil industry historian at the University of Houston. "I'm sure it's going to galvanize the political opponents of expanded offshore leasing."
The spill endangers the fragile fish and shrimp nurseries of the Louisiana wetlands, which could be affected as early as Saturday. Up until this weekend, the Coast Guard and rig operator British Petroleum remained adamant that the spill could be contained. But environmentalists and lawmakers who oppose more coastal drilling are growing skeptical.
"The explosion, ensuring fire, and continuing spill raise serious concerns about the industry's claims that their operations and technology are safe enough to put rigs in areas that are environmentally sensitive or are critical to tourism or fishing industries," Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida writes in an April 26 letter requesting congressional hearings on exploration safety.
The spill presents a paradox for Louisiana. Avid defenders of the oil industry, Louisiana shoreline communities now face the greatest danger from the spill, which could threaten the region's prolific commercial and sport fishing industries.
"We're very concerned that east of the Mississippi River, based on currents and winds we're dealing with now, this oil will reach the shore," Chuck Wilson, a Louisiana State University oceanography and coastal sciences professor, tells CNN. "That could be a huge environmental problem and a significant financial blow to fisheries."