Ever since the BP well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, the entire country is watching and waiting to see what happens each day, especially those persons whose very livelihood is threatened by oil and gas that is floating closer to their home states. The story of what happened will keep unfolding until we know the cause of this disaster, and more about the eleven persons who are missing.
Residents of Cordova, Alaska, are watching and waiting, as well, and their hearts are especially heavy because they understand what’s going on. They know that the residents of Louisiana and possibly other states affected will watch their way of life change for years to come, if the spill is not contained. Louisiana officials want to have the federal government and the state in control of preventative measures. Volunteers are already doing what they can, but it is up to BP to furnish booms, which are becoming harder to find. Each parish in the state is drawing up it’s own plan for defending its coastline, but is required to get final approval from BP and the Coast Guard. In Lafourche Parish, a floating decontamination area is being built at Port Fourchon to clean oil off incoming vessels. Port Fourchon handles 18% of the shipping traffic of domestic oil produced in the United States. In some cases, ships travel 50 miles up the Bayou Lafourche to Lockport, Louisiana, and the inland waterways must not be contaminated.
Louisiana authorities also want to start dredging up walls of sand to protect delicate inland estuaries from the oil spill. The U.S. Army National Guard has been placing sandbags dropped from helicopters along the coastline to protect marshes. You will notice, as with any cleanup measures, that volunteers and other personnel must wear gloves, coveralls, boots, hats, and sunscreen. This form of personal protective equipment is required to safeguard workers from chemicals in the water. It’s a shame that there’s no way to protect the wild birds, fish and creatures of the sea, but with a disaster such as this one, their future existence is threatened. Many professional societies are manned and ready to do what they can to clean oily birds, in hopes they will survive.
Alaskans learned some hard lessons from the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. The town of Cordova was one of the hardest hit, and families suffered such stress that it led to many cases of bankruptcy, divorce, suicide, and alcoholism. They know that when big companies commit to compensate for the loss of livelihood and cleanup of the area, it takes several years and many court appeals before it is finally settled. Their advice is to be prepared. They have plans to have response apparatus ready, with a flotilla of fishermen on call at all times to deploy booms and sandbags, in the event of another oil spill.
As we watch and wait and hope for the best, there are many obstacles to overcome: high winds, rough waves, and not knowing what the results of the chemical dispersants that have been sprayed on the water will bring. If this mess should get into the warm water current of the Gulf of Mexico, and next into the Gulf Stream, it could possibly flow around Florida and the eastern seaboard. We must hope that the next method that is tried to stop the flow of oil from a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico will work. Our hearts are with the people involved in this struggle.