We focus on local news at Xpress. So last week, when I heard about the April 20 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I confess that I didn’t pay much attention. Even with hurricanes, it takes at least a level two to get me the least bit nervous, because I’m a Gulf Coast native. I take notice when a federal command post — one of several connected to clean-up and monitoring efforts — gets set up in my home town, Mobile, Ala. The spill may hit Alabama’s coast line, beaches and barrier islands as early as Sunday.
It’s already hit the Louisianna coast, and folks down there say they can smell it in the salty air.
Although it was first reported that there was no spill — then amended to note that the well was leaking 1,000 barrels of oil per day — the latest estimates calculate 5,000 barrels per day are spewing into the ocean. That;s 200,000 gallons per day. By Wednesday, April 28, the oil had spread to cover a 600-mile swatch of the Gulf. (You can see satellite image of the spreading spill at www.skytruth.org.)
For those of you not familiar with the area, the Gulf Coast is a land of white beaches and blue-green waters. This past Christmas, I dined on fresh raw oysters from its waters. Years ago, my ex-husband complained that all my family talked about was the price of shrimp. My grandparents once had a beach cabin on the ‘Bama coast, and we often fished the marshes in the area and set traps for blue crab. And while visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala., in the many years since, I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat on the beach at night, gazing into the distance and seeing the lights of natural-gas rigs off the coast. I often wondered about the safety of any drilling in the Gulf. And just five years ago, the region was rocked by Katrina, and much of the local shrimping and oystering industry has yet to recover. This past Christmas, I drove down Highway 90 from New Orleans to Mobile. The most coastal parts of the highway still look like a derelict, eerily empty disaster zone.
This oil spill may eclipse all that, with some reports saying it may release more oil than the Exxon Valdez spill, which dumped 11 million gallons into Alaskan waters and onto the Alaskan coast. According to reports I scanned from my hometown newspaper, the Mobile Press-Register, from The New York Times, NPR and other sources, the damage to such species as the brown pelican — on the endangered-species list not so long ago — could be devastating. The fishing industry could be dead in the water for years to come. And you think Asheville relies on its tourist industry? The white beaches on the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will be hit hard.
I doubt I have to spell out for you my personal opinion of drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.