Events May 6, Day 17 of a Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with an explosion and fire on April 20 on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well at about 210,000 gallons per day. The slick threatens the U.S. coastline.
Oil washed up Thursday on at least two barrier islands in the Chandeleur Islands chain off Louisiana. The pinkish oily substance lapped at the shore of New Harbor Island, washing into thick marsh grass. It looked like soggy cornflakes, possibly because it was mixed with chemicals that it had been sprayed to break it up before it reached land. The uninhabited islands are part of a national wildlife refuge and provide an important nesting ground for sea birds.
Streaks of putrid, orange and rust-colored oil snaked well west of the mouth of the Mississippi River in an area that has received less attention. An Associated Press reporter saw hundreds of dead jellyfish in the area Thursday. The oil is in streaks ranging from a few feet wide to much larger swaths. Much of the oil west of the river was still miles out in the Gulf, but there appeared to be little or no effort to contain it or clean it up.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries halted shrimping in an area west from the mouth of the Mississippi River to a pass leading into Barataria Bay.
STOPPING THE FLOW
Workers started lowering a giant concrete-and-steel box over the blown-out oil well at the bottom of the sea Thursday in a risky and untested bid to capture most of the gushing crude and avert a wider environmental disaster. "We haven't done this before. It's very complex and we can't guarantee it," BP spokesman David Nicholas warned. The 100-ton containment vessel is designed to collect as much as 85 percent of the oil spewing into the Gulf and funnel it up to a tanker. It could take several hours to lower it into place by crane, after which a steel pipe will be installed between the top of the box and the tanker. The whole structure could be operating by Sunday.
Skimmer boats continued to slurp up oil while shrimp boats pulling booms instead of nets gathered smaller amounts. Two pairs of boats attached at either end of two lengths of fireproof boom corralled some of the thickest oil to burn it. The Coast Guard said that on Wednesday, good weather allowed 18 flights to drop 150,000 gallons of chemical dispersant; crews skimmed 588,000 gallons of oily water, and conducted five controlled burns.
WHERE'S THE BOOM?
Coastal officials in Louisiana say they're waiting for enough boom to corral oil from the Gulf spill. Jefferson Parish spokesman Deano Bonano said Thursday that Grand Isle needs at least 50,000 more feet of oil-containing boom to protect its shores. He says supply has been a problem since parish officials requested boom and skimmers from BP and the Coast Guard.
THE RIG'S OWNER
The owner of the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico said Thursday its contract with BP should protect it from lawsuits by fishermen, hotel owners and other businesses damaged by the massive oil spill. Transocean Ltd. CEO Steven Newman said the company won't be held liable for "any expense or claim related to pollution" from the well.
BP CHIEF EXEC
The chief executive of BP PLC says the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico will be stopped, but gives no estimate of when that might happen or how much it will ultimately cost. Tony Hayward said in an interview with the BBC broadcast Thursday that it was too early to judge the cost of stopping the leak, mopping up the oil and compensating people for damages.
NEW DRILLING MORATORIUM
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered a halt Thursday to all new offshore drilling permits nationwide until at least the end of the month, stepping up scrutiny of the entire industry amid the catastrophic spill in the Gulf. Outside BP's Houston crisis center, he said lifting the moratorium on new permits will depend on the outcome of a federal investigation over the Gulf spill and recommendations to be delivered to the president May 28.
Attorneys general from five Gulf coast states say they're cautiously optimistic BP will pay fishermen and others for losses caused by the massive oil spill. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said they wanted to make sure BP would put the claims process in writing and that people who get quick payments won't have to promise not to sue the company later. Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell says BP has promised to make the claims process quick and easy.
A federal judicial panel in Washington has been asked to consolidate at least 65 potential class-action lawsuits claiming economic damage from the Gulf oil spill.
Shrimpers, commercial fishermen, business and resort owners, charter boat captains and even would-be vacationers have filed lawsuits from Texas to Florida since the April 20 oil rig disaster. They seek damages possibly in the billions of dollars from oil giant BP PLC, rig owner Transocean Ltd. and other companies. The companies won't comment.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says his agency is working to assure the public that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe. Locke also says that applies to Gulf seafood already in grocery stores and in restaurants. He said Thursday that part of the Gulf has been closed to fishing to send a signal that any seafood harvested from the Gulf is safe.
THE FOOD CHAIN
While people anxiously wait for the mess to wash up along the coast, globules of oil are already falling to the bottom of the sea, where they threaten virtually every link in the ocean food chain, from plankton to fish that are on dinner tables everywhere. Hail-size gobs of oil with the consistency of tar or asphalt will roll around the bottom, while other bits will get trapped hundreds of feet below the surface and move with the current, said Robert S. Carney, a Louisiana State University oceanographer.
Louisiana's secretary of wildlife and fisheries has arranged to credential out-of-state veterinary specialists to help rescue oiled birds and animals. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says veterinarians from Delaware, California and Alaska have already volunteered. It says the state Board of Veterinary Medicine agreed to grant emergency waivers for veterinarians who have treated oiled animals such as birds, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
WHERE WILL IT GO?
Scientists are watching carefully to see whether the slick will hitch a ride to the East Coast by way of a powerful eddy known as the "loop current," which could send the spill around Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean. If that happens, the oil could foul beaches and kill marine life on the East Coast.
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warns that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a long-term event. Napolitano said Thursday during a visit to Biloxi that she doesn't think the spill will be over soon. She says she hopes the device being deployed to cap the spewing well is successful, but officials are still planning for the worst.
OIL SPILL LOANS
The Obama administration is offering low-interest loans to businesses in parts of the Gulf Coast that have suffered financial losses from the massive oil spill. The Small Business Administration says the loans will be available immediately to businesses along the Louisiana coast, as well as in some counties in Mississippi.
The National Guard is building a 300-foot temporary wharf at a St. Bernard marina, to be used to load booms and supplies onto boats. Sgt. Denis Ricou says the 2225th Multi-Role Bridge Company, 205th Engineer Battalion is launching bridge erection boats and float ribbon bridge sets at Campo's Marina.
Government officials are being inundated with homespun remedies to prevent the nightmare scenario of oil washing up all over the Gulf Coast. More than 3,500 suggestions have come in by phone and e-mail. Ideas range from the goofy — putting a cork in the blown-out well — to the possible. One business plans to demonstrate a product that shoots a carbon dioxide solution from guns to freeze parts of the slick, which could then be scooped up and refined.