"This is really sort of one of the nightmares for all the companies involved, and obviously the people who live along the coast are sort of helpless," says Tyler Priest, an oil industry historian at the University of Houston. "I'm sure it's going to galvanize the political opponents of expanded offshore leasing."
The spill endangers the fragile fish and shrimp nurseries of the Louisiana wetlands, which could be affected as early as Saturday. Up until this weekend, the Coast Guard and rig operator British Petroleum remained adamant that the spill could be contained. But environmentalists and lawmakers who oppose more coastal drilling are growing skeptical.
"The explosion, ensuring fire, and continuing spill raise serious concerns about the industry's claims that their operations and technology are safe enough to put rigs in areas that are environmentally sensitive or are critical to tourism or fishing industries," Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida writes in an April 26 letter requesting congressional hearings on exploration safety.
The spill presents a paradox for Louisiana. Avid defenders of the oil industry, Louisiana shoreline communities now face the greatest danger from the spill, which could threaten the region's prolific commercial and sport fishing industries.