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Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico heading towards full-scale environmental disaster

With the news that the amount of oil leaking from below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico could be as much as five times the original estimate put forward by British oil-giant BP, the situation moved from worrisome to desperate.

It is now believed that the 5,000 barrels of oil (210,000 gallons) are leaking from the ocean floor everyday, as opposed to 1,000 barrels of oil a day which BP originally estimated. As the oil slick was reported to be within hours of hitting the Louisiana coastline, a state of emergency was declared. The Gulf of Mexico coast is home to hundreds of species, including dolphins, birds, alligators, and turtles.

Regional fishermen are also dismayed as the Gulf of Mexico is one of America’s richest fishing grounds and it is currently peak spawning time for many of the area’s targeted marine life. Louisiana shrimpers have already filed a lawsuit against BP for economic losses due to the spill.

Oil started spilling after an explosion last week on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig that left eleven people ‘presumed dead’. Remote vehicles were unable to fix the plug and now the newest plan is to cap the leak, a process that will take four weeks and is not certain to succeed.

Labeling the spill of ‘national significance’, the US government has now stepped in to help deal with cleaning the spill and mitigating its impact—including an option to mobilize the military—though the government says BP will be responsible for all costs.

According to the Guardian BP recently lobbied hard—and succeeded—against tougher environmental requirements for off-shore drilling, including a remote-controlled switch that if working properly could have stopped the spilling. The device is required by Norway and Brazil, but not the US.

The spill also puts the Obama Administration in a difficult position, having announced last month a new plan to allow offshore drilling along the northern coast of Alaska, the eastern coast, and the Gulf of Mexico, essentially opening up millions of acres that had long been off the table to oil interests. While applauded by some Republicans and the oil industry, the plan was vigorously opposed by environmental organizations, as well as some coastal governors and senators.

At the same time, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnel said today that the spill will not deter him from pushing Virginia to be the first state on the East Coast to begin off-shore drilling.

The US consumes more oil than any other country in the world. In 2007 the US consumed over 20 million barrels of oil everyday: nearly three times the number two consumer, China. As far as production, the US comes in third after Saudi Arabia and Russia; it is the world’s largest export.

Headlines since the spill have changed from “Drill, Baby, Dill”, a mantra from pro-drillers, to “Spill-Baby-Spill”, a reflection of the environmental costs of humankind’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels.

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