Long, thin lines of oil have reached Louisiana's shoreline today. Scientists estimate thicker petroleum sits in the water, just five miles off the coast. The National Weather Service says winds may push the oil into the coast's inlets through the weekend. The weather will also halt the Coast Guard's oil skimming and burning containment efforts for the time being.
The Associated Press reports that migrating birds, nesting pelicans, river otters and mink on the state's islands and in its barrier marshes will be the first wildlife to come into contact with the oil on land. Oil can clump birds' feathers, leave burns on skin and be deadly when swallowed.
"It is of grave concern," David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The AP. "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."
Three leaks in a pipe connected to a sunken Transocean Ltd. oil rig are causing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipe is leaking an estimated 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, of oil a day. The leak began after last week's explosion and fire aboard a rig called Deepwater Horizon which was contracted to drill oil off Louisiana's coast by BP.
BP is responsible for cleaning up the spill, although President Barack Obama said yesterday that his administration would help with the clean-up. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, are expected to arrive in Louisiana today to assess the damage. BP says it will hire local fishermen to assist in the clean-up since the spill could affect oysters, shrimp and other sea life on which commercial fishermen make a living.
The Obama administration announced today that no new offshore oil projects will proceed until the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion has been figured out. Earlier this year, the president called for new offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to central Florida, plus the northern waters of Alaska. President Obama also has said he wants Congress to lift a drilling ban in the oil-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico, 125 miles from Florida beaches.
Officials say the Louisiana oil slick could be the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades, and could surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency in Louisiana yesterday.
UPDATE SINCE THIS STORY WAS FIRST POSTED: This story has been updated to reflect that oil has reached the coast of Louisiana, today's weather and that the White House has halted offshore drilling.