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Energy firms mount offshore defense

A boat makes its way through crude oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, La.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency today, saying that massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico threatens the state's natural resources. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared it a "spill of national significance," meaning federal money and manpower can now be used to combat the growing disaster. The government also said the slick is five times worse than originally thought, with 5,000 barrels of oil leaking into the Gulf every day.

All of this is prompting new questions about the administration's plan to expand off-shore drilling and some energy companies are mounting an early defense. Jill Barshay reports.


JILL BARSHAY: Shell is the first of BP's rivals to pitch in. It sent six boats to help clean up the slick. Private industry is the only source of technology right now capable of cutting off a deep sea gusher.

Energy expert Daniel Kammen, at the University of California at Berkeley, says the unusual cooperation among rivals is more than just a humanitarian gesture.

DANIEL KAMMEN: This is, of course, a sensitive moment when there's discussions about expanding or reopening offshore drilling, and this could give quite a black eye to the industry.

President Obama wants drilling opened from Delaware to Florida. Today the administration said the oil spill will become part of the debate on that. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida says the disaster is a wake-up call, as Congress considers expanding off-shore drilling.

BILL Nelson: Well, it should be obvious now that the threat of oil washing up onto the beaches, that that will kill a $65 billion-a-year tourism industry in Florida that depends on pristine beaches.

Nelson says the industry spent years wooing lawmakers by saying offshore drilling was safe.

Nelson: And that, of course, went away with this very tragic explosion that killed 11 people and is now threatening the entire Gulf Coast.

Nelson may not have to work too hard to block the proposed expansion of oil drilling. Already Florida Governor Charlie Crist has switched sides from supporting to opposing it.

I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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