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Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be bigger than Exxon Valdez

The US military has joined the effort to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It's been declared an event of 'national significance,' meaning more resources will be available.

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The US military will provide mostly logistics to the operation, including landing platforms for helicopters so they can refuel easier and spend more time at work. The White House said Thursday that BP will have to pay for the entire cleanup.

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By the time the Macondo well is finally capped using a containment dome and drilling a relief well, the Deepwater Horizon accident may have spilled more oil than the 11 million gallons emptied out of the Exxon Valdez.

"Probably the only thing comparable to this is the Kuwait fires" following the Gulf War in 1991, Mike Miller, head of Canadian oil well fire-fighting company Safety Boss, told the BBC World Service."The Exxon Valdez is going to pale in comparison to this as it goes on."

To protect sensitive fish nurseries and bird rookeries, the Coast Guard has already laid more than 9,000 feet of containment rings around the Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area. The Coast Guard is also laying booms around Venice, in lower Plaquemines Parish, the area closest to the spill. Four staging areas are being set up in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to deploy 500,000 feet (95 miles) of available oil booms.

But even as Overton says "we'll quickly use up the world's supply of oil booms," the booms won't be able to hold back all the oil. In calm water or harbors, booms can be effective, but in the open ocean or wind-battered shoreline they'll be marginally effective and will quickly wear out.

Another open question is whether the oil will continue to ball up and float or whether some of it will sink. That would put oyster beds, which might otherwise survive unscathed, in jeopardy. And trying to clean up the deep nooks and crannies of the Louisiana marshes will require new technologies, especially since clean-up efforts themselves could damage the areas as much or more than the globs of oil.

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the spill has been declared an event of "national significance," meaning the government can designate more resources to fight the spread of oil. "Every available asset" will be used, she said.

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