An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has become far worse than initially expected crept toward the coast Thursday as government officials offered help from the military to prevent a disaster that could destroy fragile marshlands along the shore.
“We’ll take help from anyone,” BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.
But time may be running out. Oil from the spill had crept within 12 miles of the coast, and it could coat as soon as Friday. A third leak was discovered, which government officials said is spewing five times as much oil into the water as originally estimated — about 5,000 barrels a day coming from the blown-out well 40 miles offshore.
If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure.
Local officials expressed frustration with the pace of the government’s response and the communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP officials.
“We’re not doing everything we can do,” said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River at the tip of Louisiana..
“Give us the worst-case scenario. How far inland is this supposed to go?”
Louisiana has opened a special shrimp season along parts of the coast so shrimpers can harvest the profitable white shrimp before the spill has an effect.
The spill has moved steadily toward the mouth of the Mississippi River and the wetland areas east of it, home to hundreds of species of wildlife and near some rich oyster grounds.
The rig Deepwater Horizon sank a week ago after exploding 36 hours earlier. Of its crew of 126, 11 are missing and presumed dead.
A fleet of boats working under an oil industry consortium has been using boom to corral and then skim oil from the surface.
A controlled test to burn the leaking oil was successful late Wednesday afternoon. BP was to set more fires after the test, but as night fell, there were no more burns. No details have been given about when more fires are planned.
The decision to burn some of the oil came after crews operating submersible robots failed to activate a shut-off device that would halt the flow of oil on the sea bottom 5,000 feet below.
President Barack Obama has directed officials to aggressively confront the spill, but the cost of the cleanup will fall on BP, spokesman Nick Shapiro said.