The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is bad, and, by all indications, its scope appears to have taken the government by surprise. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano deemed it a "spill of national significance" in a news conference on Thursday, a full week after officials first identified the potential for a major spill after BP's oil rig exploded. The spilled oil was just miles off the U.S. coastline Thursday night, and on Friday morning, the Coast Guard was investigating reports that it had reached the shore.


David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that he is "frightened" about the spill--which was not very comforting.

The Atlantic Wire's Max Fisher delves into the political ramifications of this event, as the Obama administration faces pressure to deal with the spill and commentators debate the safety of offshore drilling.

The spill is reaching U.S. shores less than a month after President Obama announced a plan to allow for new offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Obama took some criticism from drilling advocates--most notably Sarah Palin--because more drilling won't begin soon enough for their liking. The Interior Department would have to conduct geological research before some drilling would be able to happen.

It also comes as climate and energy reform hits a moment of uncertainty (not that it's ever been certain) in the Senate: a bipartisan bill was slated for release this past Monday, but plans fell apart, as the only Republican to work with Democrats on energy reform, Sen. Lindsey Graham, dropped his name from the bill after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled he would prioritize immigration ahead of the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill.

The key goal of energy reform, as it has been advertised, is to reduce carbon emissions; it's unclear how an oil spill of this magnitude, as much as it may damage offshore drilling in the eyes of the public, will affect support for a bill aimed at emissions reduction.

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