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Officials: Gulf oil spill is 'massive'

  |   May 2, 2010 at 6:51 PM
WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- U.S. government and military officials Sunday called the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill a potential catastrophe.

In appearances on CNN's "State of the Union," U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said rough seas had forced crews trying to deal with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill into a "holding action."

Asked specifically if he was happy with BP's response to the oil rig explosion that claimed 11 lives and poses an environmental crisis for parts of the Gulf Coast, Allen sidestepped, saying only that the oil company "is the responsible party and they need to be responsible."

"I spent a lot of time last night with the senior executives talking about the things we need to do," Allen said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she does not think the government relied too heavily on BP's assessment of the damage situation in the first days after the April 20 explosion.

"There was independent modeling being done by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Coast Guard, based on what they were seeing coming to the surface of the ocean," she said.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said from Day 1, authorities started working on the assumption the worst-case scenario could happen with 100,000 barrels of oil or more leaking per day. Estimates now range from 5,000 to 25,000 barrels leaking daily.

Allen said the situation's overall severity is comparable to the Exxon Valdez spill in terms of complexity.

"The difference between the Exxon Valdez and this event is that we had a vessel and once the oil was spilled, we could measure what was left on the vessel and the volume that was left," Allen said. "This spill at this point, in my view, is indeterminate. That makes it asymmetrical, anomalous, and one of the most complex things we've ever dealt with."

Salazar called it potentially catastrophic.

"It is, indeed, a massive oil spill," he said. "And our job is to make sure that we do everything we can to try to protect both human life, but also very precious and fragile environment of the Gulf Coast."

Salazar said at President Barack Obama's direction, blowout preventers, the piece of safety equipment that has failed on the wrecked Deepwater Horizon rig, are being inspected to make sure they are in proper working order.

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