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Page last updated at 20:52 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 21:52 UK

Gulf of Mexico oil spill sparks new US drilling ban

White House adviser tells ABC all new drilling is on hold

The US administration has banned oil drilling in new areas of the US coast while the cause of the oil spill off Louisiana is investigated.

White House adviser David Axelrod told ABC TV it wanted to know exactly what led to last week's explosion on the BP-operated rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

As many as 5,000 barrels of oil a day are thought to be spilling into the water, threatening US coastal areas.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency on Friday.

The order, which covers Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties, says the oil slick "is generally moving in a northerly direction and threatens Florida's coast".

ANALYSIS
Paul Adams
Paul Adams, BBC News, Washington

Even as frantic efforts continue to minimise the consequences of last week's oil rig explosion, the political fallout is becoming clear.

A month ago, the administration said it was willing to lift a decades-old ban on offshore drilling.

It was seen as a gesture to Republican opponents of President Obama's wider energy policy and his efforts to tackle climate change.

But environmentalists were aghast. Now their worst fears are being realised and so the president's senior adviser has said on TV that there will be no new drilling until there has been what he calls "an adequate review" of what's happened in the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether his comments herald a complete rethink on offshore drilling, it is still too early to say.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has already declared a state of emergency. The slick from the wreck of the rig has begun to reach the Louisiana shore and on Friday the state's National Guard was mobilised.

Heavy seas on Friday were pushing the slick towards the coast and over the booms meant to contain it.

The US National Weather Service said strong winds, high tides and waves could push the oil into inlets, ponds and lakes in south-east Louisiana over the weekend.

Rescuers poised to treat affected wildlife had their first patient on Friday - a young gannett found offshore covered in thick, black oil.

It was taken to a treatment centre at Fort Jackson, south-east of New Orleans.

Mr Axelrod announced the ban on drilling in new areas on ABC's Good Morning America programme.

He also defended the administration's response to the 20 April explosion that destroyed the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig saying: "We had the coast guard in almost immediately."

Last month President Barack Obama eased a moratorium on new offshore drilling.

In a statement outside the White House on Friday, President Obama said he believed oil exploration was an important part of the US economy but it had to be done responsibly.

"BP is ultimately responsible... for paying the costs of response and clean-up operations but we are fully prepared to meet our responsibilities in all affected communities," he said.

He said five staging areas had been set up to protect sensitive shorelines and about 1,900 emergency workers and more than 300 ships and aircraft were on the scene.

We're putting everything forth in plans for a worst-case scenario
Cdr Mark McCadden
US Coast Guard

He added that he had ordered a "thorough review" of what might be required "to prevent accidents like this from happening again".

A BP spokesman in London, Toby Odone, told the BBC his company would face up to its obligations but did not bear sole responsibility for the oil spill.

"We... take responsibility for the environmental consequences of that accident and we are obviously fully committed to taking all possible steps to contain the spread of the oil spill," he said.

"The rig was owned and was the responsibility of Transocean, which is a drilling company which operates all over the world."

He said BP would continue to prospect for new sources of oil.

"We are responsible to our shareholders to continue to do the thing which we do best, which is to explore for and to produce oil and gas," he said.

The US government has designated the oil spill an "incident of national significance" which allows it to draw on resources from across the country.

The wetlands off the Louisiana coast sustain hundreds of wildlife species and a big seafood and fishing industry.

Nasa satellite picture

The US Coast Guard said it had sent investigators to confirm whether crude oil had begun to wash up on parts of the Louisiana shoreline.

Cdr Mark McCadden, of the coast guard, told the BBC: "We're putting everything forth in plans for a worst-case scenario.

"Right now the priority is to bring as many resources as are available to attack this spill."

Two US Air Force planes have been sent to Mississippi in case they are needed to spray oil-dispersing chemicals over the slick.

The Louisiana coastline, with its rich shrimp and oyster beds, is the most threatened by the spill.

A group of Louisiana shrimpers has already filed a lawsuit against BP and the owners of the rig, Transocean.

Richard Arsenault, a lawyer for the group, told the BBC: "The harm right now to the fishing industry and to the economic sector is just almost incalculable."

There are also fears of severe damage to fisheries and wildlife in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Barack Obama: "Domestic oil production must be done responsibly"

An emergency shrimping season was opened on Thursday to allow fishermen to bring in their catch before it was fouled by the advancing oil.

Navy vessels are helping to deploy booms to contain the spill.

President Obama has dispatched high-level administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, to the area.

At a news conference on Friday, Ms Napolitano said the US government would continue to push BP for a strong response to the spill.

Eleven workers are still missing, presumed dead, after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.

How the oil has spread
Approximate oil locations 22 April - 15 May



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Yahoo! UK and Ireland Obama visits as oil slick threatens disaster - 53 mins ago
Daily Star Obama to see oil slick damage area - 1 hr ago
Times Online Oil spill disaster is now 'out of control' - 3 hrs ago
RTE Online State of emergency in Florida after oil spill - 42 hrs ago
RTTNews.com New off-shore drilling banned as alarming oil slick hits US shores - 45 hrs ago


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