By Ian Graham
As oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico and spreads to U.S. shores, state and federal agencies are preparing for what could be a massive ecological disaster.
The spill, the result of an explosion that sunk a deepwater oil rig, is leaking an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day (200,000 gallons) into the sea. At this rate, estimates say the Deepwater Horizon spill could easily exceed the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker crash, which spilled 11 million gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska, in both volume and impact in the three months it will take to plug the leak and drill a relief well.
Click here for a map of the spilled oil from the state of Louisiana, where some reports say spilled oil is already washing ashore.
Click here to watch a video of U.S. Coast Guardsmen preparing to block spilled oil in Venice, La.
The federal government has deemed the situation to be an “incident of national significance,” an event that requires an “extensive and well-coordinated multiagency response to save lives, minimize damage, and provide the basis for long-term community and economic recovery,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
As a result, a number of top-ranking officials are visiting the Gulf Coast at the request of President Barack Obama. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will inspect ongoing operations dedicated to minimizing environmental risks in the areas affected by leaking oil. Read related Defense.gov story.
Also, the U.S. Air Force has deployed two C-130 Hercules aircraft from Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Ohio, equipped for chemical spraying to drop high volumes of dispersal chemicals on the spill. They are awaiting orders to carry out their mission. Dispersal chemicals break down crude oil into water-soluble matter that will break up and dissipate without harm.