Gulf oil spill could hit Louisiana coast Thursday night

Crews have begun setting fire to oil leaking from the site of an exploded drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a last-ditch effort to get rid of it before it reaches environmentally sensitive marshlands on the coast.
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 4:49 PM

A massive crude oil spill from last week's offshore rig explosion is expected to reach Louisiana's delicate coastline by Thursday night -- 24 hours ahead of a Coast Guard projection earlier in the day -- Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said.

"We are expecting to see the first impact at Pass-A-Loutre today, Chandeleur Islands on Saturday," Jindal said at a briefing in Baton Rouge.

The Coast Guard confirmed that the leading edge of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is three miles from Pass-A-Loutre Wildlife Management Area, the Reuters news agency reported. The area is at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The spill could threaten wildlife, tourism and the livelihoods of fishermen. "We are being very aggressive and we are prepared for the worst case," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hare, the service's deputy commandant for operations, said at the White House.

The oil spill is not only moving faster toward shore than was anticipated, it is also pouring out vastly more crude oil than initially estimated. The White House said Thursday that President Obama had directed his administration -- including the Pentagon -- to aggressively join in cleanup efforts.

The government declared the spill to be of "national significance," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, which clears the way for a wider federal response to prevent environmental damage.

But officials warned that it may take 90 days to shut off the flow of leaking oil. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that oil could be pouring out of the ground at a rate of up to 5,000 barrels a day. Federal officials expressed frustration Thursday with the inability of BP, the oil company that had drilled the undersea well, to seal the ruptured wellhead.

"The spill is now crossing different regions," Napolitano said. "We will continue to push BP to engage in the strongest response possible."

The Pentagon is reviewing what resources it could offer in the cleanup, but no decision has been reached, spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

"We have come to no conclusions yet to what those [resources] might be and whether they would be of much assistance to the effort down there," Morrell said.

In a briefing at the White House, Napolitano and other administration officials rejected the suggestions that the administration had been slow to deal with the spill, saying that it has employed booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants to try to control the oil.

Weather and sea conditions Thursday prevented officials from trying another controlled burn of the oil. Such a burn worked Wednesday with a small test section of the slick.

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