When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and burst into flames off the coast of Louisiana last month, it seemed for a time that the most lasting repercussions would be the grief felt by friends and relatives of the 11 crew members who died in the blast. Two weeks on, however, the leak that sprung when the rig sank is devastating the region’s fishing industry and threatens to cause an ecological disaster should the ever-growing oil slick hit land in force. Efforts to contain the slick have been hampered by foul weather. But anything that might block or divert oil from fragile coastal wetlands is at best a temporary solution, given that up to 5,000 barrels (almost 800,000 litres) of oil continue to gush into the ocean every day.
British Petroleum, which leased the Deepwater Horizon from offshore drilling company Transocean, has been unable to activate a safety valve to shut the leak. In the meantime, it is drilling a new well to relieve pressure on the ruptured one, and has dispatched a containment vessel to suck up escaped oil. Already, analysts estimate the spill could cost billions. U.S. President Barack Obama said BP is responsible and “will pay.” On Monday, BP accepted blame for the calamity and promised: “We will clean it up.” This hasn’t reassured residents of Louisiana, or nearby Florida, where a state of emergency has been declared in more than a dozen coastal counties. Hundreds of fishermen across the region, whose livelihoods are threatened by the spreading slick, have applied for jobs cleaning it up.