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Catastrophic Oil Spill Threatens Gulf of Mexico Coast

Apr 30th 10
By Louisa Beckett

“It’s devastating,” said Billy Smith, the vice president of Trinity Yachts in Louisiana, of the massive oil spill that reached the state’s coastal waters east of the Mississippi River yesterday. “This thing could easily surpass the damage that [Hurricane] Katrina did.”

The oil spill is the result of a major explosion on April 22, 2010, that capsized and sank British Petroleum’s Transocean drilling rig Deepwater Horizon in Mississippi Canyon Block 252 (MC252) in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. Eleven oil rig workers were killed in the incident.

According to NOAA, the well is leaking up to an estimated 210,000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil a day on the sea floor, 5,000 feet below the water’s surface, despite BP’s efforts to seal the damaged piping using Robotic Underwater Vehicles (ROVs). In addition to the Louisiana coastline, which was ravaged by Katrina in 2005, the spill also is threatening the coasts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, depending on winds and currents.

On Thursday, April 29, the U.S. government declared the Deepwater Horizon spill a “Spill of National Significance.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has conducted test burns of the surface oil, while NOAA is evaluating a new technique that would apply dispersants to the oil at the source of the leak. Other proposed measures include building a piping system to conduct oil from the sea floor up to tankers, a method that has never been used at these depths, and drilling a relief well – a measure that would take several months to complete.

In the meantime, the U.S. Coast Guard and local groups are using oil booms in an effort to protect ecologically sensitive coastal areas from the encroaching oil. More than 180,000 feet of booms already have been deployed, and another 300,000 feet are being staged – still a small amount when compared with the large, continually spreading area of the spill. To make matters worse, the local weekend forecast is for persistent winds that will drive the surface oil toward shore.

“There are simply not enough oil booms to contain it,” Smith said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Several new Trinity yachts are scheduled to be delivered in the next two months, including 190-foot Hull T045 and 164-foot Hull T053, Imagine, which are due to leave in May, followed by 142-foot Hull T048, Big Zip. “Normally, they’d be going right through the area of the spill,” Smith said – a move that would result in the brand new yachts requiring a thorough cleaning, at best, and possibly even a new paint job. He said that if the spill persisted, the yard would encourage the yachts to take an alternate route down the Mississippi then west of the spill. Other potential courses may be to take the Intracoastal east to Pensacola or Panama City or west to Houma, Louisiana, and then down the Houma ship channel to the Gulf of Mexico.

The real tragedy, Smith said, is the oil spill’s potential devastating impact on the natural environment – including estuaries and marshlands that serve as a nursery and a haven for countless sea birds, fish, and other wildlife – and in turn, on the industries that depend on it, including commercial fishing, tourism and boating.

“They are talking about an ecological disaster of Biblical proportions, worst-case scenario,” he said.


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