Thick, sticky oil crept deeper into delicate marshes of the Mississippi Delta, an arrival dreaded for a month since the crude started spewing into the Gulf, as anger and frustration mounted over efforts to plug the gusher from a blown-out well and contain the spill.
Up to now, only tar balls and a sheen of oil had come ashore. But chocolate brown and vivid orange globs and sheets of foul-smelling oil the consistency of latex paint have begun coating the reeds and grasses of Louisiana’s wetlands, home to rare birds, mammals and a rich variety of marine life.
With each passing day, outrage grows. State and local officials say the federal government isn’t doing enough. President Barack Obama faults the agency that oversees offshore drilling. Republicans say the Coast Guard and the administration should have done more.
A deep, stagnant ooze sat in the middle of a particularly devastated marsh off the Louisiana coast where Emily Guidry Schatzel of the National Wildlife Federation was examining stained reeds.
“This is just heartbreaking,” she said with a sigh. “I can’t believe it.”
Fingers are also pointing at BP PLC, not only for the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the deaths of 11 workers, but for the gusher of oil that flowed entirely uncontained until this past weekend. The company, which was leasing the rig, conceded Thursday what some scientists have been saying for weeks: More oil is flowing from the leak than BP and the Coast Guard had previously estimated.
“It’s anger at the people who are supposed to be driving the ship don’t have any idea what’s going on,” said E.J. Boles, 55, a musician from Big Pine Key, Fla. “Why wouldn’t they have any contingency plan? I’m not a genius and even I would have thought of that.”
The BP executive in charge of fighting the spill, Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, said he understands the public frustration. He told the CBS “Early Show” on Friday that in the worst case scenario, the gusher could continue until early August, when a new well being drilled to cap the flow permanently could be finished.
But Suttles said he believes the rich Gulf environment will recover, in part because it is a large body of water and has withstood other oil spills.
“I’m optimistic, I’m very optimistic that the Gulf will fully recover,” Suttles said on CBS.
A live video feed of the underwater gusher, posted online after lawmakers exerted pressure on BP, is sure to fuel the anger.
It shows what appears to be a large plume of oil and gas still spewing into the water next to the stopper-and-tube combination that BP inserted to carry some of the crude to the surface. The House committee website where the video was posted promptly crashed because so many people were trying to view it.
“I think now we’re beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP,” said U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. “BP has lost all credibility … It’s clear that they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill.”
At least 6 million gallons have gushed into the Gulf since the explosion, more than half of what the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled in Alaska in 1989. A growing number of scientists believe it’s more.
BP spokesman Mark Proegler told The Associated Press that the mile-long tube inserted into a leaking pipe over the weekend is capturing 210,000 gallons of oil a day Ã¢â‚¬â€ the total amount the company and the Coast Guard have estimated is gushing into the sea Ã¢â‚¬â€ but some is still escaping. He would not say how much.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a team including scientists is working on a new estimate of how much oil is gushing from the well. Agency officials would not speculate on how big the leak might be.
Washington, meanwhile, has turned up the pressure on BP.
The Obama administration asked the company to be more open with the public by sharing such information as measurements of the leak and the trajectory of the spill. BP has been accused of covering up the magnitude of the disaster.
Also, the Environmental Protection Agency directed BP to employ a less toxic form of the chemical dispersants it has been using to break up the oil and keep it from reaching the surface.
BP is marshaling equipment for an attempt as early as Sunday at a “top kill,” which involves pumping heavy mud into the top of the blown-out well to try to plug the gusher.
If it doesn’t work, the backup plans include a “junk shot” Ã¢â‚¬â€ shooting golf balls, shredded tires, knotted rope and other material into the well to clog it up.
“We’re now looking at a scenario where response plans include lighting the ocean on fire, pouring potent chemicals into the water, and using trash and human hair to stop the flow of oil,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, in a letter to Obama calling for a formal moratorium on new offshore drilling permits. “If this is the backup plan, we need to rethink taking the risk in the first place.”
Lawmakers including Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., wonder why the company has to invent remedies on the fly.
“Shouldn’t you have thought of a worst-case scenario and prepared for it and had this type of technology from day one?” Cohen asked BP America President Lamar McKay during a hearing.
He’s not the only one with questions.
In New York, a morning show anchor pressed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to accept responsibility; he didn’t. In London, activists strung a banner at BP headquarters, rechristening the oil company, “BP, British Polluters.” And on Facebook, tens of thousands join groups with names such as “I demand to know how much of BP’s oil is in the Gulf.”
Ask Vincent Creel, spokesman for the city of Biloxi, Miss., about the spill and his words nearly spew, like a leak he can’t control. The oil hasn’t hit shore here, he says, but it overshadows everything, including a major golf tournament. It is an economic and PR nightmare.
“It’s staying out at sea so far,” he said, “and yet it’s bringing doom to our shores.”
Patience was wearing thin among state and local officials who called on Obama to take a larger role in the fight against oil invading the Louisiana coast.
“We’ve given BP enough time,” said Jefferson Parish Councilman John Young.
“Everything in that marsh is dead as we speak,” Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said after touring the clogged marshes. “Had you fallen off that boat yesterday and come up breathing that stuff, you probably wouldn’t be here, either.”
Smith reported from Morgantown, W.Va. Associated Press writers Mike Kunzelman, Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill and Greg Bluestein in Louisiana, Ben Evans in Washington, Holbrook Mohr in Mississippi and Matt Sedensky in Florida contributed to this report.
Source: AP News