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US Coast Guard warns Gulf oil spill is now "catastrophic"

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Todd Farrar with SCAT (Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team) holds up hard tar balls found on the beach in Pass Christian, Mississippi May 12, 2010.

The oil slick from the huge uncontrolled spill in the Gulf of Mexico has broken into smaller parts, and while potentially catastrophic, may pose less threat of a massive landfall, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen said on Friday.

“The character of the slick has changed somewhat, it is disaggregated into smaller patches of oil,” said Allen, who is leading the response to contain what could be the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

“It’s not a monolithic spill, we’re dealing with oil where it’s at,” Allen added.

Thin surface oil “sheen” and globs and balls of tar from the spill so far mostly have affected outlying parts of the Louisiana coastline. Tar balls also have washed ashore on Alabama’s Dauphin Island.

Allen said that while dealing with an oil slick broken into different segments is challenging, “that could be to our benefit, because if it does impact shore it’s not the whole, it’s that portion that came ashore,” he said.

Pressed about repeated reports from some scientists that the amount of oil gushing unchecked from a ruptured undersea well owned by BP is much more than originally estimated, Allen replied: “We’re attacking this as if it were a much larger spill anyway.”

“I think it has the potential to be catastrophic, and we need to plan that way,” he said.

“I am going to act as if it is, until this thing is done, and we all should,” Allen added.


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