With bad weather hampering efforts to hold back the massive oil slick growing off the Gulf Coast, U.S. President Barack Obama called the situation a "massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster," promising that his administration will do everything it can to stop it and clean it up.
President Obama made his remarks from Venice, La., where he arrived yesterday to survey the oil slick and meet with officials.
"The American people are now aware, certainly, the folks down in the Gulf are aware, that we're dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster," Obama said. "The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our Gulf states, and it could extend for a long time."
The offshore BP oil well that exploded and caught fire April 20 is now spewing an estimated 5,000 barrels a day into the waters off the Gulf Coast. (Let's be clear, as pointed out in Time, this is not an "oil spill" but an unabated gush of crude oil.)
Heavy waves in the open water have pushed much of the oil over containment booms. By Sunday, the oil slick began lapping at ecologically fragile marshlands on the Lousiana coast.
The disaster puts the recent Obama administration decision to open U.S. waters to offshore drilling — a political compromise offered to Republicans in exchange for climate policy support — into stark relief. Late last week, President Obama announced he was ordering a halt to new offshore drilling leases as the federal government investigates the causes of the disaster.
Whether the moratorium on offshore drilling will be restored remains to be seen. Whatever the political consequences, the incident is a catastrophic reminder that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
“This is potentially a watershed environmental disaster,” said Wesley P. Warren of the Natural Resources Defense Council in the New York Times. “This one is a gigantic wake up call on the need to move beyond oil as an energy source.”
Photo: Seabirds rest on the shore of Ship Island, Miss, as a boom line floats offshore. (William Colgin, Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT)