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The Obama administration has declared the spreading pollution from an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico a "spill of national significance," a designation that will make it easier for the federal government to help in the cleanup.
The oil is about 25 kilometers off the coast of Louisiana, where Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency.
The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, told reporters in Washington Thursday that a coordinated group from federal agencies, led by the Coast Guard, is working to fight the spill.
Oil is leaking from a damaged well off the Louisiana coast at a rate of nearly 795,000 liters each day.
Officials say the edge of the 160-kilometer-long oil slick is expected to reach the Louisiana shoreline by Friday. It is also threatening the coastlines of Texas, Mississippi and Florida.
Napolitano said the declaration of a spill of national significance allows the government to draw on resources from across the country. She said under federal law British Petroleum, the company that owns the oil well, is responsible for the cost of controlling and cleaning up the spill.
She said the company is working to cap the leaking well, but it is unclear how long that could take.
The BP-operated oil platform, located 67 kilometers off the coast of Louisiana, sank two days after a massive explosion and fire on April 20.
The U.S. Gulf coastal region is home to sea birds, dolphins and marine life that provide livelihoods for many in the commercial fishing and tourist industries.