Apr 29, 2010 4:35 PM by Letitia Walker
VENICE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of
emergency and the federal government sent in skimmers and booms
Thursday as oil from a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico oozed
toward the fragile coastline.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara said at the White House
that the government's priority was to support oil company BP PLC as
it fights to hold back the oil surging from the seabed in amounts
much higher than previously estimated.
BP was operating the Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling in
5,000 feet of water about 40 miles offshore when it exploded last
week. Eleven crew members are missing and presumed dead, and the
government says 5,000 barrels of oil a day are spewing from the
blown-out well underneath it.
Those who count on the Gulf for their livelihoods fretted
Thursday about oil that could reach the coast as soon as Friday.
In Empire, La., Frank and Mitch Jurisich could smell the oil
coming from just beyond the murky water where their family has
harvested oysters for three generations.
"About 30 minutes ago we started smelling it," Mitch Jurisich
said. "That's when you know it's getting close and it hits you
They spent Thursday hauling in enough oysters to fill more than
100 burlap sacks, stopping to eat some because it might be their
last chance before oil contaminates them.
The Coast Guard urged BP to formally request more resources from
the Defense Department. President Barack Obama has dispatched
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa
Jackson to help with the spill. The president said his
administration will use "every single available resource at our
disposal" to respond.
Obama directed officials to aggressively confront the spill, but
the cost of the cleanup will fall on BP, spokesman Nick Shapiro
An executive for BP PLC said on NBC's "Today" that the company
would welcome help from the military.
"We'll take help from anyone," said Doug Suttles, chief
operating officer for BP Exploration and Production.
A third leak at the well site was discovered Wednesday, and
government officials said the amount coming out is five times as
much as originally estimated.
Suttles had initially disputed the government's estimate, and
that the company was unable to handle the operation to contain it.
But early Thursday, he acknowledged on "Today" that the leak
may be as bad as the government says. He said there was no way to
measure the flow at the seabed and estimates have to come from how
much oil makes it to the surface.
If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or
4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can
drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the
Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11
million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.
As dawn broke Thursday in the oil industry hub of Venice, about
75 miles from New Orleans and not far from the mouth of the
Mississippi River, crews loaded an orange oil boom aboard a supply
boat at Bud's Boat Launch. There, local officials expressed
frustration with the pace of the government's response and the
communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP
"We're not doing everything we can do," said Billy Nungesser,
president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi
River at the tip of Louisiana.
There's a growing tension in towns like Port Sulphur and Empire
along Louisiana 23, which runs south of New Orleans along the
Mississippi River into prime oyster and shrimping waters.
Companies like Chevron and ConocoPhillips have facilities
nearby, and some are hesitant to criticize BP or the federal
government, knowing the oil industry is as much a staple here as
"I don't think there's a lot of blame going around here, people
are just concerned about their livelihoods," said Sullivan Vullo,
who owns La Casa Cafe in Port Sulphur.
Louisiana has opened a special shrimp season along parts of the
coast so shrimpers can harvest the profitable white shrimp before
the spill has an effect.
The spill has moved steadily toward the mouth of the Mississippi
River and the wetland areas east of it, home to hundreds of species
of wildlife and near some rich oyster grounds.
Jindal on Thursday declared a state of emergency so officials
could begin preparing for the oil's impact. His declaration says at
least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and
neighboring Mississippi are in the oil plume's path. It also notes
that billions of dollars have been invested in coastal restoration
projects that may be at risk.
Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the
devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the
area was accustomed to the occasional minor spill. But he feared
the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing
"You're pumping out a massive amount of oil. There is no way to
stop it," he said.
A fleet of boats working under an oil industry consortium has
been using booms to corral and then skim oil from the surface.
Crews operating submersible robots tried and failed to activate
a shut-off device to halt the flow of oil on the sea bottom. A
controlled test to burn the leaking oil was successful Wednesday,
but conditions Thursday did not allow for more burns.
BP has asked local fishermen for help. A memo from Sen. David
Vitter's office said BP was seeking to contract with shrimp boats,
oyster boats and other vessels for hire to help with deploying
containment boom in the Gulf. Staging areas were in Venice, La.;
Mobile, Ala.; Pascagoula and Biloxi, Miss.; and Pensacola, Fla.
Information on the "Vessel Opportunity Program" also was posted
on Sen. Mary Landrieu's website.
Hai Huynh, 39, and his 22-year-old deck hand Robert Huynh were
ready to help however they could even though the Coast Guard will
only allow vessels with lifeboats to help with carrying oil booms
to contain the spill.
"We want to go out and help clean up the oil," Robert Huynh
said aboard their freshly painted steel-hulled shrimp boat, the
Miss Kimberly. "We're ready."
Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill
Michael Kunzelman and Brett Martel in New Orleans, Melinda Deslatte
in Baton Rouge and Holbrook Mohr in Empire contributed to this