BP 'Overwhelmed' by Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, Say Federal Officials

Louisiana's Gov. Jindal had declared a state of emergency yesterday, asking for federal help to pay for use of National Guard troops. Late today the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had agreed to pick up the tab.

The White House said 1,900 people were at work to protect the shoreline, and 217,000 feet of flotation booms have been deployed as of today to corral the floating oil. It said 75 response vessels were on site, including skimmers, tugs, and barges.

The liberal group MoveOn.org used the accident to call on President Obama to back off his call for new offshore drilling.

"Today, people all across the Gulf Coast can tell you why it's a terrible idea," the group's organizers said in an e-mail to members. "Instead of drill, baby, drill they're looking at spill, baby, spill."

Conservation groups such as the Sierra Club, Oceana and the Alaska Wilderness League joined in urging a halt to drilling.

"Taking new drilling off the table will allow the Obama Administration and Congress to focus their resources on developing the clean energy future that will stimulate the U.S. economy while helping to address climate change," said Oceana in a statement. "But most importantly, this action will help to prevent future oil accidents from taking more lives and destroying coastal economies and ocean ecosystems."

One ray of hope is that about 30 percent of an oil slick usually evaporates in the strong southern sun, and microbes and waves take care of another large portion.

"Mother nature does a much better job at cleaning up than we do of picking up," said Ed Levine, an oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, operated by BP Oil and owned by Transocean Ltd., exploded and started burning April 20. Eleven rig workers were never found and are presumed to have died.

Oil from the area is called light sweet crude, but Edward Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental science at Louisiana State University, said the name is deceptive. It contains heavy compounds, called asphaltenes, that do not burn easily or evaporate, even in the warm climate off Louisiana.

"When you've got a spill like this," said Overton, "there are three things you can do. You can burn it, scoop it up out of the water, or use chemical dispersants to break it up. This oil is not particularly good with any of those three."

"With light crude," he said, "you could burn most of it -- 70 or 80 percent. With heavy crude, I don't know. I'm not optimistic."

ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Additional reporting by ABC's Jay Shaylor and Luis Martinez.

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