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Oil Leak May be 5 Times Worse than Initial Claim

Updated at 3:51 p.m. Eastern.

A massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has become far worse than initially thought crept toward the coast Thursday as government officials offered help from the military to prevent a disaster that could destroy fragile marshlands along the shore.

Speaking Thursday morning to CBS News, Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP PLC, which leased the sunken rig, backed away from his company's denial of Coast Guard claims a day earlier suggesting the five-fold jump, telling "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez, "we think the range has increased" to "somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels" per day.

"In terms of our response, it actually doesn't change based on that number," Suttles said.

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Speaking to NBC, Suttles said BP was "happy" to accept an offer for military help containing the oil slick from the federal government, which his company had politely declined on Wednesday.

The federal government made the offer after it was determined the slick now poses a direct threat to the U.S. shoreline, with some of the sticky crude forecast to make landfall as soon as Friday.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara said at the White House that the government's priority was to support the oil company BP PLC in employing booms, skimmers, chemical dispersants and controlled burns to fight the oil surging from the seabed.

The Coast Guard has urged the company to formally request more resources from the Defense Department. President Obama has dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to help with the spill. The president said his administration will use "every single available resource at our disposal" to respond to the spill.

The Navy is sending 66,000 feet of inflatable boom and seven skimming systems, and using its bases in the region as staging areas for the operation.

But time may be running out: Oil from the spill had crept to within 12 miles of the coast.

If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration said the cost of cleaning up the spill will fall on BP.

As dawn broke Thursday in the oil industry hub of Venice, about 75 miles from New Orleans and not far from the mouth of the Mississippi River, crews loaded an orange oil boom aboard a supply boat at Bud's Boat Launch. There, local officials expressed frustration with the pace of the government's response and the communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP officials.

"We're not doing everything we can do," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River at the tip of Louisiana.

"Give us the worst-case scenario. How far inland is this supposed to go?" Nungesser said. He has suggested enlisting the local fishing fleet to spread booms to halt the oil, which threatens some of the nation's most fertile seafood grounds.

Louisiana has opened a special shrimp season along parts of the coast so shrimpers can harvest the profitable white shrimp before the spill has an effect.

Michael Nguyen, 58, was aboard his 82-foot shrimp boat, the Night Star III, waiting for news Thursday morning on what has happening with the slick.

"My boat is ready: New nets, did repairs. I'm ready to go," he said.

He wasn't panicking, but was clearly worried.

"The oil come in everywhere, the shrimp die, the crabs die, the fish die. What do I do? Stay home a long time?"

The spill has moved steadily toward the mouth of the Mississippi River and the wetland areas east of it, home to hundreds of species of wildlife and near some rich oyster grounds.

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed late Wednesday over the oil spill on behalf of two commercial shrimpers from Louisiana, Acy J. Cooper Jr. and Ronnie Louis Anderson.

The suit seeks at least $5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages against Transocean, BP, Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp.

Jim Klick, a lawyer for Cooper and Anderson, said the oil spill already is disrupting the commercial shrimping industry.

"They should be preparing themselves for the upcoming shrimp season," he said. "Now they're very much concerned that the whole shrimp season is out."

Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the area was accustomed to the occassional minor spill. But he feared the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing resources.

"You're pumping out a massive amount of oil. There is no way to stop it," he said.

More on the rig explosion:

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Crews Start Burning Gulf Oil Slick
Fighting Oil with Fire
Oil Rig Cook Haunted by Nightmares Since Blast
Oil Spill Growing off Coast after Rig Explosion
Oil Spill Continues; Will Robot Fix Leak?
Man-Made Disaster in the Gulf
New Oil-Rig Safety Rules Eyed Before Blast
Louisiana Oil Rig Explosion

Louisiana State Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham told lawmakers federal government projections show a "high probability" oil could reach the Pass a Loutre wildlife area Friday night, Breton Sound on Saturday and the Chandeleur Islands on Sunday.

The sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig has re-ignited the debate over offshore drilling, reports CBS News Correspondent Don Teague. In the Gulf alone, there are more than 3,500 oil and gas platforms with about 35,000 offshore workers. They produce more than 1.7 million barrels of oil per day, almost 30 percent of total domestic production.

Environmental groups say the disaster proves offshore drilling isn't worth the risk, Teague reports.

In a reversal of his stance on the topic, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday after flying over the oil slick in the Gulf that he would no longer seek offshore drilling for his state.

Crist said the disaster proved that oil rigs are "the opposite of safe."

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