By DOTTY NIST
The Panhandle-wide commission charged with identifying ways to improve response in the event of an oil spill held an all-day meeting in Walton County on Oct. 3
This third meeting of the Florida Commission on Oil Spill Response Coordination took place at the South Walton Courthouse Annex, with representatives from a number of Northwest Florida counties in attendance, including Bill Imfeld, commissioner-elect for Walton County District 3, who served as Walton County’s representative. Representatives of Gov. Rick Scott’s executive office, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and a number of state departments and divisions serve on the commission as well.
The commission was established as directed by a bill passed by the Florida Legislature in 2011.
Among items on the commission’s Oct. 3 agenda were presentations by Capt. John Slaughter of the U.S. Coast Guard District 7 and Capt. Duke Walker, Coast Guard District 8.
Slaughter spoke on oil and gas exploration and drilling activities by other countries and potential risks from those activities to the U.S., with a focus on the Caribbean. He noted that the U.S. is far more active with exploration and drilling than any other country in the region. However, exploration and drilling by other nations is on the rise, Slaughter told the group, and a number of countries not already active are pursuing offshore drilling.
While Mexico is doing a good deal of exploration, that country has less than a dozen offshore rigs, Slaughter said. A company has a number of offshore drilling leases off the Bahamas, he said, but currently that country has a moratorium in place on offshore drilling. There is active offshore drilling off the coast of Cuba, he explained, both by a Venezuelian company and a Russian company.
Slaughter revealed that multi-lateral discussions between the U.S., Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Cuba, and other Caribbean countries contemplating offshore oil and gas exploration are being conducted. These discussions are focusing on prevention, planning and response in connection with offshore drilling. The long-term goal of the meetings is the development of a common framework for regional response activities.
Slaughter observed that legal issues arising from extraterritorial drilling-related incidents have the potential to become very complex. He identified funding for response to these incidents as another potential challenge, although the U.S. Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund would be a source of limited funding in these instances.
Slaughter provided relatively reassuring information on physical impacts of such a spill on Florida’s beaches.
“Much of the oil that you would get in a Caribbean spill…would remain in the Florida current and the Gulf Stream,” he told attendees. “Some of it will come ashore, but the vast majority is going to stay in the currents and get washed out to sea.” He added that the oil would be expected to move much more quickly than was the case with the Deepwater Horizon incident.
Slaughter said the Coast Guard has been working with the state tourism organization Visit Florida on means to convey “real-time information” to tourism interests in the event of a spill in the Caribbean that would not impact Florida beaches.
Controversial measures, including dispersants, burning, and mechanical barriers would have to be considered in the event of future spill incidents, Slaughter commented. He added that inlets are the most sensitive and difficult to restore, so the priority would be to protect those, even at the expense of beaches. “The oil has to go somewhere, and it typically goes on a beach,” he admitted.
Providing an update on the response to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Capt. Walker said the response was ongoing and in its 897th day.
A Unified Command comprised of BP, the Coast Guard, NOAA, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and states impacted by the spill was established on Oct. 1, 2010, to consolidate response and recovery activities in connection with the spill, Walker noted, explaining that the Unified Command is now known as the Gulf Coast Incident Management Team (GCIMT). GCIMT is headquartered in New Orleans.
Ongoing response in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, he said, is now focused on 434 miles of the original 4,375 miles affected by the oil spill, meaning that the response is 90-percent complete.
A total of 1.7+ million pounds of oil material was collected from coastlines of the four states between Jan. 1 and Sept. 23 of this year, according to Walker’s report. Most of that was in Louisana, where 858,845 pounds were collected. The lowest amount of oil material was collected in Florida, at 23,514 pounds….
Read the full story in the Oct. 11, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.