With workers struggling to contain the growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House has the declared the situation a disaster of "national significance."
The designation paves the way for an all-out federal response to the potential environmental disaster. Yesterday, top officials were dispatched to the region to help coordinate defences against the leak.
Meanwhile, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has called on the chief executives of America's top five oil companies to testify before Congress on the accident, as well as concerns about rising profits coupled with rising consumer prices.
"From the health of our economy to the health of our environment, it's time for the American public to hear from the oil companies," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).
The oil spill, created last week after a drilling rig leased by BP set fire and sunk, is now leaking at a rate of 5,000 barrels of oil per day, five times as much as originally estimated. If it cannot be closed, the blown well may end up releasing even more oil into the environment than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which coated the Alaskan shoreline with 260,000 barrels of sticky black bitumen.
As the oil from the spill continues to drift toward the Gulf Coast, concern is growing about the effect on coastal ecosystems and communities.
The accident represents a new political challenge for President Obama, who just last month agreed to open vast stretches of the U.S. coastline to oil drilling.
Photo credits, left to right:
1. Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press
2. Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press
3. US Coast Guard/Reuters
4. Sean Gardner/Greenpeace/Reuters