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White House closely watching oil spill

From NBC's Athena Jones and Mark Murray
President Obama opened his remarks at a Rose Garden ceremony honoring teachers by updating the public on the White House efforts to help monitor and contain a potentially disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

He said he had ordered the EPA administrator and Interior and Homeland Security secretaries to visit the site of the incident tomorrow.

"My administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, " Obama said. "I've been in contact with all the governors of the states that may be affected by this accident. Earlier this week, Secs. Napolitano and Salazar laid out the next steps for a thorough investigation into what precipitated this event."

The Department of Homeland Security has designated the incident at British Petroleum's breached well "a spill of national significance," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters at a briefing at the White House Thursday, before the president's Rose Garden remarks.

BP estimated the breach at its exploratory well was releasing some 1,000 barrels a day of light to medium crude into the Gulf, but new estimates from the government suggest the amount could be five times that. One possible method to staunch the flow of oil, a relief well, could take 90 days or more to enter operation. In the meantime, the company is using chemical dispersants, controlled burns, and booms to try to limit the damage and the Department of Defense has been asked to look into any special expertise or technologies it might be able to contribute to the efforts.

Officials project the oil could make landfall in the Mississippi Delta region some time tomorrow, and the White House is closely watching the events as they unfold. The president began his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office this morning with an update on the oil spill and he was also briefed on the issue last night on Air Force One on the way back from a tour of the Midwest.

One question is whether the incident will lead the administration to rethink plans to expand offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and other areas, an announcement the president made in March. While dodging direct questions about the impact this spill would have on those plans, White House officials said the president's March speech was not the final word on drilling, but merely the beginning of a process.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) released a letter he wrote to President Obama, saying that he is filing legislation that would prevent the administration's actions on expanding offshore drilling.