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Oil spill crisis continues to escalate


NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Eleven people died when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico some 52 miles southeast of Venice, La.

Since then, an estimated 200 million gallons of unrefined crude oil — or more — have gushed from the ruptured wellhead a mile under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. The effects continue to ripple across the Gulf states: closure of a third of the Gulf to fishing; a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf; and loss of income, employment, lifestyle and hope.

The industrial accident is being called a “spill of national significance” in part because it’s directly affecting the five states that border the Gulf: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. It’s affecting — some would say destroying — coastal ecosystems, the fishing industry and tourism.

Despite the best efforts of everyone, oil has reached the marshlands and beaches of all the states and is moving inland. Over the July 4 weekend, it was found in Lake Ponchartrain, north of New Orleans and 125 miles from the ruptured well. So far, 40 square miles of the 630-square-mile saltwater lake has been closed to fishing.

“If you took your heart out of your chest, could you live? That’s what they did to us,” said Lake Pontchartrain fisherman Carol Rotello, 59, in a television report aired June 7 by NBC News.

Because it’s a manmade event rather than an “act of God,” the federal government has not assigned the oil spill response to FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency — though it is “standing by” in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The government expects British Petroleum to pick up all the costs, and BP says it will.

However, several government agencies are involved: Homeland Security deployed the U.S. Coast Guard in the moments after the explosion to help with the rescue efforts. So, too, are the Department of the Interior and agencies under its jurisdiction, and the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Small Business Administration, Department of Defense and NIOSH — the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Admiral Thad Allen was named national incident commander for the Unified Area Command, which was tasked to provide “additional coordinated oversight in leveraging every available resource to respond to the BP oil spill and minimize the associated environmental risks,” according to the White House.

Estimates of the leak vary widely. Some say it could be 100,000 barrels a day. One barrel of oil equals 42 gallons. When a third containment vessel is fully operational, Allen said BP will be able to capture about 53,000 barrels a day, according to news reports.

Many containment methods are in place, including hiring out-of-work fishermen to skim the “mousse” (weathered oil) out of the Gulf. However, nothing seems to be working well. That’s adding to the despair people feel. Not only have they lost their employment and their way of life, they can’t do anything that effectively fixes anything.

It’s relentless mental anguish for Gulf residents and an economic disaster for business owners, cities and even states, with effects expected to continue for years.

Jerry Biggs, a commercial fisherman in Pass Christian, Miss., who was forced to shut down because of the spill, is now hiring out his 13 boats and 40-man crew to British Petroleum for cleanup, according to an article at www.foxnews.com. He said skimming is severely hampered by the weather.

“This isn’t going away. This isn’t a sneeze or a hiccup. This is diarrhea for a long time,” Biggs said. “My lifestyle is … over. The thing that I love the most I’m not going to be able to do anymore.”
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Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.