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Waste and Emissions»Oil spill reaches US coastline

»Friday, April 30,2010

Louisiana declares a state of emergency amid reports that oil from gulf rig Deepwater Horizon has hit mouth of Mississippi. The US coastguard is investigating reports that oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig has begun washing ashore near the mouth of the Mississippi river.

Yesterday the coastguard said up to 5,000 barrels a day were flowing into the sea – five times the rate previously estimated – as an assistant chief at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said he was "frightened for the country".

Louisiana has declared a state of emergency and the White House said the president and the joint chiefs of staff were being briefed regularly on the situation. Yesterday Barack Obama said BP was "ultimately responsible" for the spill.

A spokesman confirmed that the US national coastguard had received reports of the oil washing ashore. He said officials from the coastguard and BP were out investigating the reports, and would make an announcement later today.

Last night NOAA said persistent winds from the south-east were forecast through the weekend, which would continue to push the oil ashore.

It has declared the incident a "spill of national significance", defined as: "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 co-ordination of federal, state, local, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up the discharge."

The designation allows for a wider federal response, with funds and assets being used from around the country, particularly from other coastal areas.

"I am frightened for the country, for the environment," said David Kennedy, assistant chief of the National Ocean Service at NOAA.

"This is a very, very big thing, and the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."

BP said today it was "ramping up preparations for a protection and cleaning effort" along the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

It has already installed 50,000 metres of protective boom along the coastline, and said an additional 90,000m was being deployed.

"We are doing absolutely everything in our power to eliminate the source of the leak and contain the environmental impact of the spill," said BP chief executive, Tony Hayward.

"We are determined to fight this spill on all fronts, in the deep waters of the gulf, in the shallow waters and, should it be necessary, on the shore."

He added: "In the past few days I have seen the full extent of BP's global resources and capability being brought to bear on this problem, and welcome the offers of further assistance we have had from government agencies, oil companies and members of the public to defend the shoreline and fight this spill. We are determined to succeed."

BP has been using a mix of chemical dispersant, booms and burning to contain the spread. One method is to tow booms out to sea to surround parts of the spill and then set the oil on fire. Once the fire burns out, the remaining tar is removed by nets or skimmers. High winds prevented the final stage today.

BP is also planning to cap the well and capture the leaking oil, but this will take four weeks to put in place, by which stage more than 150,000 barrels could have been spilt. If the steel cap does not work, BP will have to try drilling a relief well, which would take three months.

By then, the spill could be more than 300,000 barrels (47m litres), which is larger than the 258,000 leaked by the Exxon Valdez.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the well lacked a remote-control shutoff switch required by some other major producers, including Norway and Brazil. BP was at the forefront of recent lobbying of the US government against stronger safety controls for offshore drilling.

Hayward said: "The scale of the surface response is truly unprecedented, both for BP and for the oil industry."

However, a BP spokesman said the environmental damage from, and cost of tackling the leak would not be in the same range as the Exxon Valdez tragedy, which happened close to shore in the narrow Prince William Sound in Alaska. Exxon spent $3.5bn cleaning up the Valdez spill and had hundreds of millions of dollars in damages awarded against it.

Fund managers and analysts in the City of London said they were deeply worried about the financial cost to BP of the kind of legal action that could be taken in the US by those damaged by the accident.

One oil analyst who asked not to be named said: "We have heard that the state of Louisiana is threatening to sue the company."

More than £13bn has been knocked off the oil company's stock market value since the rig caught fire..

The incident is particularly damaging for BP because it is still recovering from the damage to its reputation caused by the Texas City fire, pipeline fractures in Alaska and a rig accident in the gulf.

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