Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Deepwater Oil Spill’s Potential Impact on Florida’s Coastal Communities

The April 20th Deepwater Horizon Drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has been dominating our news and causing more than a little concern in our Florida coastal communities. Despite British Petroleum’s initial attempts to downplay the full magnitude of this disaster, reports now indicate that the spill covers an estimated 600 mile diameter area (an estimated 2100 square miles approximating the size of Delaware).

Louisiana has been primarily impacted up until now but the forecast is light impact in the Pensacola area later this week or early next week with light sheen approaching within 33 miles. Some experts are also predicting that the Loop Current could push the spill south toward the Keys and then back north to Broward and Palm Beach over the coming weeks.

Current plans call for the deployment of 30,000 feet of inflatable containment booms for the Pensacola area with 23,000 feet deployed and an additional 69,000 staged in Pensacola. However, booms are largely ineffective at this time due to chop which washes the spill over the booms.

The estimated spill is 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day. Efforts to activate the “fail-safe” hydraulic valves to close the well have not worked but those efforts continue. A dome is under construction to be placed over the leak. This approach has worked before but has never been tried at the current depth (5,000 feet) – estimated time to put in place is 2 weeks. A final alternative is to drill a relief well and cap the leak with grout with an estimated time to accomplish this task at 2 to 3 months.

BP is the entity under federal law which has been tasked with incident response; however, the Coast Guard retains oversight of this cleanup. The big concern by many local officials is that not enough planning is going into protecting Florida’s 770 miles of shoreline and not enough input from Florida officials is being sought.

Even though impact in our State has not yet been fully felt, we must make sure that our communities are prepared for a potentially disastrous impact. According to Alex Sink, the State’s CFO, dealing with a spill of this nature is akin to dealing with a Category 5 hurricane. Think of a hurricane rolling in over a 3 to 6 month period and you get a better idea of what this spill’s long-term impact on our coastal communities might look like.

Just as your community should properly document your property prior to every hurricane season rolling in on June 1st, “before photos” should now be taken of coastal properties prior to the spill’s arrival in case of a potential claim against BP. In addition, having your financial statements and other documents in order to expedite a disaster loan in the event you need one is advisable. The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) was created to implement Title I of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). OPA addresses issues associated with preventing, responding to and paying for oil pollution. Among other things, Title I of OPA established the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) to pay for expeditious oil removal and uncompensated damages.

In addition, here are some important numbers for you to have to get more information as well as to prepare for the potential impact to our State.

Florida State Emergency Information Line: (800) 342-3557

• BP Claims Line: (800) 440-0858
• Environmental hotline and community information: (866) 448-5816
• Wildlife distress hotline: (866) 557-1401
• To report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information: (866) 448-5816
• Vessels of Opportunity (boats) program: (425) 745-8017

You can also visit the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s response website at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon/default.htm

Unlike a tornado or tsunami, we do have time to prepare ourselves in the event this oil spill impacts our communities. Please take the next few weeks to document your community’s condition prior to any impact.

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