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Cause of oil spill needs to be understood

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POSTED: May 3, 2010 11:00 a.m.
While the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely reinforcing the opinions of opponents to offshore drilling, some of those in favor of drilling off the Atlantic coast are taking more of a “wait and see” approach.
That’s the case for both U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, the Republican congressman for coastal Georgia, and Roy Hubbard, a South Bryan resident and self-described environmentalist.
“It’s very important for us to figure out what caused this,” Kingston said.
An oil rig about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana exploded April 20 and has been spewing sweet crude ever since.
The leak from a blown-out well a mile underwater is five times bigger than first believed. More than 200,000 gallons of oil a day are spewing from the site of the rig, which was operated by BP and owned by Transocean Ltd. It sank two days after the explosion.
The disaster came just weeks after President Barack Obama cleared the way for offshore drilling off the southeast coast, as well as the coastlines of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. However, the president declared Thursday morning that there will be no new offshore drilling until an investigation into the current situation is complete.
Kingston said it will take learning what went wrong – why the rig exploded, why automatic shut-off mechanisms for the well haven’t worked – to figure out how to move forward when it comes to new offshore drilling.
“Rather than immediately make a decision (against drilling), I think the proper thing to do is figure out what we know and learn from what’s happened, and then make decisions and figure out how to move forward,” Kingston said.
He noted that disaster response would be an integral part of the equation when looking into new oil drilling efforts.
“What do we need to shore up in terms of need for a response to a situation like this,” Kingston said. “It almost seems like we are behind the curve on response. You want to anticipate the worst-case scenario, and it looks like we have not adequately done that.”
Hubbard, a guest columnist for the Bryan County News who recently lauded Gulf oil rigs as having never leaked, said it’s too early to tell if the spill would cause him to change  his mind about drilling offshore.
“We need to find out exactly what happened and what will be done to prevent it from happening again,” Hubbard said. “(Oil rigs) did have a sterling record up until about a week ago.”
He said that though he is a proponent of offshore drilling, “I’m not at all happy with the exploding well in the Gulf.”
“It’s a tragedy – especially if the slick reaches the shore.”
And a tragedy it has certainly become. Oil began oozing into Louisiana’s ecologically rich wetlands Friday while storms were threatening to frustrate protection efforts.
Chandra Brown, riverkeeper and executive director for the Ogeechee Riverkeeper based in Statesboro, said her heart and gratitude are with everyone along the Gulf Coast “who will be spending the coming days and weeks cleaning up from this catastrophe.”
“I think this kind of accident, while somewhat rare, points to the vulnerability of our coastlines to disaster,” she said. “As a result of this spill, Ogeechee Riverkeeper will be closely scrutinizing any proposal to drill for oil offshore to ensure that the rivers, coast lines, and drinking water sources are protected.”
Meanwhile in the Gulf, boats patrolled coastal marshes early Friday looking for areas where the oil has flowed in, the Coast Guard said, and the state of Louisiana diverted thousands of gallons of fresh water from the Mississippi River to try to flush out the wetlands, though that effort was being hampered by wind.
An animal rescue operation at Fort Jackson, about 70 miles southeast of New Orleans, had its first patient Friday, a young northern gannett found offshore.
The bird is normally white with a yellow head and long, pointed beak but was covered in thick, black oil. Workers with Delaware-based Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research used Dawn blue dishwashing soap to scrub it.
The Coast Guard is working with BP to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and has set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water’s surface.
Faint fingers of oily sheen began reaching the Mississippi River delta late Thursday, lapping the Louisiana shoreline in long, thin lines. Thicker oil was farther offshore. Officials have said they would do everything to keep the Mississippi River open to traffic.
The Coast Guard defended the federal response so far. Asked on all three network television morning shows Friday whether the government has done enough to push oil company BP PLC to plug the underwater leak and protect the coast, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara said the response led by the Coast Guard has been rapid, sustained and has adapted as the threat grew.
The oil slick could become the nation’s worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening to eclipse even the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the Exxon Valdez, the grounded tanker that leaked 11 million gallons in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. The sheen measured about 70 miles by 130 miles as of Thursday, and officials expected to update that figure Friday.
It imperils hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world’s richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
 

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