News about the latest oil slick off the coast of Mexico not only threatens British Petroleum’s future but will also prove catastrophic for America’s tourism industry as it faces severe ecological imbalance in the coming few months.

The explosion which occurred on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform 40 miles southeast of Louisiana Coast in the Macondo Prospect Oil Field killed 11 and injured 17 other platform workers on April 20, 2010. The consequent oil spill is slowly and steadily snowballing into a major environmental disaster as British Petroleum has been unable to plug the leak for over six weeks now. With thousands of barrels of oil leaking every minute, the massive oil slick is already being counted as the worst man made disaster in recorded history. It reminds us of the Exxon Valdez accident which dumped nearly 260,000 barrels of oil near Alaska in 1989.

As soon as news of the leak reached BP officials, they adopted a ‘Top-kill’ approach that included pumping mud into the leaking well through a drill pipe with the hope that it would stem the upward flow of gases and oil but it failed miserably. Critics allege that such approaches work well when the leaks occurred on the surface but fail if the site of the accident lies 5000 feet below the sea level. After the failure of its ‘top-kill’ approach, BP attempted in the last week to cut a riser pipe and then place a domed cap over it to siphon the oil to a surface ship. Fortunately, the containment cap has been able to reduce the oil leak and as per the Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is leading the government’s relief effort, it is keeping up to 1.75 million litres of oil per day from leaking into the gulf. However, estimates show that around 1.9 to 3.8 million litres of oil is still leaking into the gulf every day and the containment process may take months before it kills the oil leak completely.

British Petroleum has had a history of safety related disasters and its inability to stop the leak has exposed the lacunae in its disaster management practices. Though the company has officially stated that it will meet all its obligations; industry observers feel that it will face lawsuits for upto $US10 billion and that it may have to wind up its operations in North America from where it currently receives nearly 60% of its sales. Analysts feel that the company may also become a take-over target as the burden of law suits may become too much to bear.

President Obama is facing growing criticism from both law makers and coastal residents for his inept handling of the crisis. Amidst all the commotion, the President has been reported by the media to have shown his anger in an interview with Matt Lauer on the TODAY show on Tuesday. The President made it clear that he’s not meeting with experts because “this is a college seminar”, he’s talking to them because they “potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.” Meanwhile, the three companies responsible for the drilling: British Petroleum, Trans Ocean Ltd & Halliburton have been placed under the scanner. US Attorney General Eric Holder has promised meticulous, comprehensive & aggressive action against those found guilty of criminal neglect.

Environmentalists all across the globe are alarmed at the magnitude of the tragedy and claim that the damage caused to the environment by this man-made disaster is irreversible and would severely hurt the growth of the tourism industry in America. As the US economy tries to wriggle out of a crippling economic recession; tourism would have proved to be a catalyst for economic growth. But this incident has proved to be a speed breaker for America’s rapidly growing tourism industry. It has also put a big question mark over America’s ability to handle man-made disasters in future.

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