NEW ORLEANS (CN) – BP reported Friday that though it fit a cap onto its broken wellhead, crude oil was still streaming out, and it was unclear how much could be captured in its latest attempt to quell the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Tension is high all along the Gulf Coast, with hurricane season under way, temperatures in the 90s, and tar balls washing up on beaches from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
Louisiana beaches are getting a new, “thick black cake-mix type” of oil. “Why do we have limited resources?” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked. “Is the nation really capable of doing big things?”
“We’re seeing once again that there are some catastrophic events that we are not, as a nation, fully prepared (for), or as a private industry,” Landrieu said on Thursday.
“This is not a surprise to us in Louisiana,” Landrieu said. “We told people after (hurricanes) Katrina and Rita that we are the canary in the coal mine and that there are some things that you have to do better. And obviously now we have another catastrophic event that BP was not prepared for. We’re very frustrated and angry about it.”
President Barack Obama will make his third trip to the Gulf Coast Friday since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon left 11 dead and a broken wellhead spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It is Obama’s second trip to the Gulf Coast this week.
BP announced on Thursday evening that it had managed to place a containment cap over its broken well, after sawing off its broken end earlier that day.
National Guard incident Cmdr. Thad Allen called the cap “another positive development in BP’s most recent attempt to contain the leak.”
But he warned: “It will be some time before we can confirm that this method will work and to what extent it will mitigate the release of oil into the environment.
“Even if successful, this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf’s precious coastline,” Allen said.
Allen said on Friday morning that over the next few hours engineers expect to close off a series of vents around the cap that will seal it, allowing oil to be brought to the surface to be contained.
Meanwhile, limited resources threaten to pit one state against another as the oil rolls in, and the start of hurricane season brings with it the fear that winds will push the oil farther ashore into fragile coastal marshes, or even farther inland.
Homeowners this week checked their insurance policies to see if oil contamination is included.
As oil began pushing into Louisiana’s Barataria Bay just north of Grand Isle in thick, heavy concentrations on Thursday, local officials called for more absorbent boom, filled with layers of cotton, and said they had warned the Coast Guard of the oil’s proximity to the bay for three days, though the Coast Guard took no action.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts told the Times-Picayune that oil, in some places several inches thick, had been spotted Thursday and that fishermen were working hard to protect the marshes and wildlife by setting boom in place.
“It’s no longer sheen or tar balls,” Roberts told the newspaper. “It’s thick black cake-mix type oil.”
Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson described the density of oil he saw from an airplane as he flew over Barataria Bay: “I’ve flown out there before, and you were looking for oil and you’d find it in small streaks when it caught the light just right,” Jackson told his newspaper. “Today when you flew into Barataria Bay from the north, you said, ‘Oh my God.’ It was streaking everywhere.”
Jackson said the consistency of the oil was heavier than he had seen offshore.
“As you get closer to it, it was in clumps, black and brown. You’d see big, black blobs in the sheen.”
On Grand Isle, just south of Barataria Bay, residents reported more oil in the water, and dead birds, including pelicans, washing ashore.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who was in Lafitte, just outside Barataria Bay Thursday, she said Gulf Coast fishermen “were visibly shaken by what they were seeing and scared for their futures.”
Landrieu’s brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said he expects to see tension among local leaders in the next few weeks as they vie for limited resources to protect their delicate coastlines.
Weeks ago, as oil inched toward Louisiana, with boom scarce, local leaders decried what they believed were surplus supplies of boom given to Alabama and Mississippi, while those coasts still faced no pressing threat of oil.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley on Thursday criticized the Coast Guard for having moved oil barriers to Louisiana from his state and Mississippi.
Now Alabama and Mississippi need the supplies.