NEW ORLEANS -- The U.S. Coast Guard says thousands of gallons of oil are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of a recent oil rig explosion that's presumed to have killed 11 workers.
On Friday, the Coast Guard believed the deep-water well was sealed, preventing any oil from coming out, but now they say underwater cameras snapped evidence of two separate leaks.
The leading edge of the oil sheen is now only 43 miles away from St. Bernard Parish and there is now a serious fear that area will spread.
The once fiery explosion above water is now taking on a whole new threat as the oil rig rests submerged some 5,000 feet below the surface within the Gulf of Mexico.
'This is a very serious spill,' said Rear Adm. Mary Landry. 'Absolutely, this is a very serious spill.'
Since the rig collapsed into the water on Thursday, the Coast Guard estimates as much as 126,000 gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. So far, recovery crews have collected 33,726 gallons of an oil/water mix.
'The response underway at the well site is massive,' said Lars Herbst, regional director for Mineral Management Service (MMS). 'It includes numerous cleanup and containment vessels.'
The utilized equipment is similar to that utilized for the 2008 oil spill in the Mississippi River in New Orleans. The barriers being used then and now, however, can only collect oil that reaches the surface. Coast Guard officials fear until the well is capped, 42,000 gallons of oil could leak into the water each day.
British Petroleum (BP), which leased the rig, is now trying to formulate a plan to either seal the well or drill an additional one to stop the surge of oil.
'We have mobilized more than 700 B.P. employees and contractors to engineer a plan and implement these options,' said Doug Settles of BP.
In the meantime, fears of oil washing up onshore have pushed the Louisiana branch of the Coast Guard to put emergency responders on high alert in Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Florida.
'Our goal is to fight this oil spill as far off shore as possible,' said Landry.
In anticipation of emergency responders from other Gulf states wanting to be a part of the cleanup and response team, the Coast Guard relocated their command center from New Orleans to a much bigger facility, about an hour north, in Robert, Louisiana. All those involved will now be housed at a Shell Oil rig training complex for a time period that's still unknown.
'It's way too early to be projecting how long this will go on,' said Settles.
But when pushed further, Settles acknowledged while the well could possibly be sealed within several days, there's also a chance for a much longer time table if they're forced to drill a brand new relief well.
'It would take several months,' said Settles.
The Coast Guard, charged with minimizing the impact, was quick to brush aside that kind of delay, leaving the time line on the cleanup below somewhat of a murky mystery. But that's not stopping the problem from rising to the surface. The shimmering sheen continues to spread -- an area 400 square miles and counting.