With more oil from the BP spill now coming ashore than ever, the environmental crisis along the Gulf Coast is ratcheting up and officials are preparing for a long summer of cleanup.
Oil is arriving in heavy, wet blankets, much thicker than the pancake batter consistency that was observed before. The crude now flowing on the coast is from the first batch of oil that leaked out of BP's damaged well 51 days ago, meaning there is still plenty of oil making its way toward land.
President Obama will return to the Gulf Coast next week for a two-day visit, his third trip to the region since the start of the disaster.
Obama plans to make stops in Mississippi, Alabama and possibly Florida, where oil is beginning to wash ashore, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today. The president's previous visits, each lasting a few hours at most, have been to Louisiana.
At the site of the leak, BP and the federal government are now collecting some 630,000 gallons of oil daily, Adm. Thad Allen said in a news conference today. The containment cap has had such success that BP has brought in a second vessel to the site of the leak to collect recovered oil and hopefully increase capacity.
BP and Allen said they'll be able to capture almost all of the leaking oil by next week.
For now, though, about half of the oil is flowing into tankers instead of the open sea. The rest of the inky oil can still be seen on video feeds, gushing out from the sides of the containment cap and adding to an already enormous mess.
Just off the coast of Louisiana on East Grand Terre Island, huge pools of oil at least a foot deep could be seen. Today, one Louisiana wildlife research center reported five times as many oiled birds as it did in the last six weeks combined.
So far, BP and the Coast Guard have deployed skimmers and boom to control the mess, but only 135 skimmers are at work right now in the entire Gulf.
Those skimmers and boom, along with oil burns, are decades-old techniques, but there's no shortage of other ideas. Some have already proven successful.
In Grande Isle, La. today, the state's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, observed workers literally vacuuming up the oil.
Today, Jindal ordered a tank that once was loaded on the back of an 18-wheeler to be placed on a barge and taken into the Gulf to collect oil.
"There's no silver bullet," Jindal said.
But he said he believes that oil in a tank is better than oil in the water.
The governor pointed to other ideas that were dismissed are now proving successful. A large sand berm built just in the last week is blocking a huge pool of oil from hitting sensitive marshes.
BP's suggestion hotline has been flooded by more than 130,000 callers.
One of those ideas came from actor Kevin Costner, who financially backed a machine that separates oil from water. His device failed its first test run, but today he complained on Capitol Hill that not enough attention is being given to exploring new solutions.
"My enthusiasm was met with apathy," Costner told lawmakers. "[They] should have been looking forward, [they] should have been developing it themselves. [They said] it's too expensive, there's no need."