VENICE, Louisiana – At a White House briefing, federal authorities, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, pledged a robust response. Napolitano said she has designated the leak a “spill of national significance,” meaning officials can draw down assets from other areas to combat it.
A command center already is open in Robert, Louisiana. A second will be opened in Mobile, Alabama, Napolitano said. She said she will travel Friday to the Gulf Coast, along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson.
“Everything’s on the table,” as far as options under consideration, said David Hayes, deputy interior secretary.
President Barack Obama started his day with a special 20-minute briefing on the disaster and pledged “all available resources,” including the military, to try and stave off a possible environmental disaster. The presence of the giant slick, now said to be growing five times faster then previously thought, just 15 miles off Louisiana’s ecologically vulnerable shores dominated a White House press briefing.
“We will use all available resources, possibly including those at the Department of Defense,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
In earlier developments, a third leak was discovered at the site, which government officials said is spewing five times as much oil into the water as originally estimated, about 5,000 barrels a day coming from the blown-out well 40 miles offshore.
“We’ll take help from anyone,” Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP’s exploration and production unit, “We’re not interested in where the idea comes from, what we’re interested in is how do we stop this flow and how do we stop it now?” Suttles said.
Suttles had initially disputed the government’s estimate, or that the company, BP PLC, was unable to handle the operation to contain it.
The Coast Guard had hoped to conduct another controlled burn of the oil slick Thursday, but sea and wind conditions were preventing it, Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara told reporters. “As soon as there is an appropriate window, we will continue the controlled burn activity,” she said.
Federal officials have said BP, which was operating the well, is responsible for funding the cleanup. 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.
If large quantities of crude drift into Louisiana’s marshy wetlands, which are a complex series of watery channels only navigable by boat, mopping up would be next to impossible. It would be disastrous for natural parks full of waterfowl and rare wildlife and could also imperil the state’s 2.4-billion-dollar-a-year fisheries industry, which produces a significant portion of U.S. seafood.
As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called for miles more protective booms to guard parks and fisheries in his southern state, weather experts predicted horrible weather all weekend that could seriously hamper emergency response efforts.