First of Slick Reaches U.S. Shore
By COREY DADE And BRIAN BASKIN
Oil is kicked up in the wake of a boat as it sails on the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday.
BURAS, La.—Officials leading the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico confirmed Thursday that the first of the slick had reached the U.S. coast, washing up on the Chandeleur Islands of Louisiana.
Amid several unconfirmed sightings in the state's barrier islands, teams spent two days searching the area before locating oil sheen Thursday morning on a beach at Freemason Island in the south end of the Chandeleur chain, according to the Unified Command, the coalition of U.S. Coast Guard, BP PLC, federal and state authorities working to stop the gusher.
"This is the first confirmation that Unified Command has received of oil on a shoreline," Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Terrell said in an interview.
Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley said the consistency of the substance found was thin rather than heavy emulsified crude, which he said remains five to 10 miles off the coast. "It's like the sheen you see when fresh rain hits the street."
The oil arrived several hours ahead of the Thursday 8 p.m. prediction by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA's latest 72-hour forecast raised the possibility that the outer edges of the slick could reach the coast near Grand Isle, La., to the west and islands just off the coast of Mississippi to the east.
The agency has said oil could make landfall on the eastern Gulf coasts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle in two or three days, but has rebutted other analyses of satellite images suggesting that the Gulf of Mexico's powerful seasonal loop current could soon carry oil farther east around the Florida Keys to Miami.
On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visited Pensacola, Fla., in the heart of the Panhandle, and met with state officials making preparations.
Meanwhile, BP on Thursday began to lower a newly constructed 98-ton containment dome over a leak in the Deepwater Horizon well at the seabed. The dome is to be attached to the drill ship Enterprise over the weekend, and the process of redirecting the leaking oil up through the top of the dome and to a vessel on the surface is to begin Monday.
A senior BP executive on Thursday told reporters at an event in Boston that after a week "we'll have a good idea" whether the dome works. Robert Dudley, BP's executive vice president for the Americas and Asia, also cautioned that such technology was untested at this depth, 5,000 feet below the surface. "We will undoubtedly have several runs with it to see whether this can work or not," he said.