Gulf Oil Spill Called ‘A Wake-Up Call’ For Maryland

OCEAN
CITY – While the ongoing oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico nudged past the
three-month mark, Gov. Martin O’Malley and several ranking state officials
convened in Ocean City this week to discuss plans for potential direct and
indirect impacts on the resort and the rest of Maryland.

O’Malley
and many of his cabinet members, along with Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and
other local officials, met at Bahia Marina on Tuesday to discuss plans for
potential impacts from the gulf disaster in Maryland including Ocean City.
While the potential for remnants of the oil spill reaching coastal areas of
Maryland remain remote, state and local elected officials met for a roundtable
discussion of the possible direct and indirect impacts, including the state’s
tourism and seafood industries.

Maryland
Attorney General Doug Gansler said the state has already taken step to ensure
its interests are taken care of as the Gulf oil spill continues unabated.
Gansler said the state penned a letter to British Petroleum (BP) just last week
urging the beleaguered oil company to set aside relief funds for states not
directly impacted by the disaster.

“We’re
just being prepared,” said Gansler. “It will be an eventuality. It’s not an if,
but how widespread it will be. We’re going to face the direct cost of oil on
our beaches, along with the indirect cost in terms of impacts to our tourism
and seafood industries.”

Gansler
said it is pretty clear who is at fault in the disaster, and while BP is
already paying reparations to those on the front lines of the spill, an effort
is being made to ensure those funds aren’t exhausted as the spill creeps
northward.

“This
is not a whodunit,” he said. “We know whodunit, we just have to make sure they
preserve the money to cover the cost of what we might have to deal with in
Maryland.”

Maryland
Department of the Environment (MDE) Secretary Shari Wilson said while most of
the current models predict oil from the spill will make its way around to the
Atlantic side of Florida and into the Gulf Stream, the likelihood of remnant of
the spill reaching Maryland’s shorelines is remote.

“The
forecast for Maryland remains very unlikely,” she said. “Nevertheless, the
situation bears monitoring very carefully. We have to make sure we’re
benefiting from the lessons learned in the gulf.”

Don
Boesch of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who was
recently appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on a national commission
studying the disaster, agreed the potential for oil reaching Ocean City’s
beaches was a long shot, and even if it did, it would not resemble the oil
currently washing up on coastal areas in the gulf. Boesch said various natural
factors would likely break down the oil before it ever reached Maryland’s
shores. For example, he said intense sunlight coupled with microbes in the
water would break down the chemical compounds of the oil.

“There
are two important things with respect to Maryland,” said Boesch. “First of all,
it’s an extreme long shot, almost an improbability. Secondly, anything that
made its way up here would be crusty remnants of the disaster.”

Wilson
agreed any remnants of the oil that reached Maryland in the weeks and months to
come would not resemble the crude oil currently spilling into the gulf.

“Although
the potential for a serious impact in Maryland in terms of oil washing up on
our beaches remains remote, those impacts would be in the form of highly
weathered tar balls,” she said.

Boesch
said the current disaster in the gulf could provide valuable lessons for
similar disasters in the future.

“This
is a wake-up call for all of us,” said Boesch. “We don’t have offshore oil
drilling in Maryland, but we do have large ships, pipelines and other sources
of oil in the area. This is a good time to review the types of risks we have in
Ocean City and in the Chesapeake Bay.”

Maryland
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary John Griffin said, among other
things, his agency was monitoring the affects of the spill on migratory species
of fish and birds.

“Highly
migratory species like marlin and tuna use the gulf as a nursery area, so they
are already greatly impacted,” he said. “Some of the highly-prized species for
the recreational anglers spawn every year in the gulf, so that’s a big concern.
There are also endangered or threatened species like certain whales and sea
turtles impacted by this.”

Griffin
said the impacts obviously aren’t limited to sea creatures.

“There
are migratory shorebirds in Maryland right now that will soon be queuing up and
heading south for the winter,” he said. “Many of them will be impacted by the
scarcity of food or the destruction of habitat.”

O’Malley
questioned Coast Guard officials on hand about the Maryland area’s current
deployment in the gulf and the level of protection left back at home. Captain
Mark Ogle, chief of the Hampton Roads sector, explained a considerable amount
of the Coast Guard’s available resources were currently being deployed.

“We
have about 15 percent of our staff, around 80 people, down there right now, but
we have more than enough resources to cover any eventuality at home,” he said.
“All of the current models say there is about a one in 500 chance any of this
stuff ever gets above North Carolina, but we have a plan in place nonetheless.”

Coast
Guard Captain Mark O’Malley, chief of the Baltimore sector, which includes much
of the Chesapeake, said the gulf spill is unlike anything he has ever seen or
dealt with before.

“The
average spill in the Chesapeake is about 20 gallons,” he said. “We don’t get
crude oil anywhere in the Chesapeake. Mostly what we see is gasoline or diesel
spills from relatively small vessels.”

A
typical spill in the Chesapeake is a drop in the bucket compared to the
disaster unfolding in the gulf, said Captain O’Malley.

“The
scale is huge,” he said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of boats and miles
and miles of boom, but they still haven’t controlled the source. What they’re
collecting, dispersing and burning is a dramatic number.”

Governor
O’Malley attempted to get a handle on the level of resources Maryland had at
its disposal, and how much of those resources were committed to the gulf and
how much remained at home. Captain O’Malley explained the state of Maryland
owns and controls about 11,800 feet of boom, while the area Coast Guard sector
had an additional 7,000 feet. Much of the boom available in the area, about
25,000 feet, is owned and controlled by private clean-up contractors who work
in concert with the state and federal authorities in times of need.

While
the chances of the impacts of the gulf oil spill reaching Maryland’s coastal
areas including Ocean City appear unlikely, Meehan stressed the importance of
reassuring visitors the resort remains largely unaffected by the disaster.

“The
chances of us dealing directly with this disaster are remote,” he said. “It’s
incumbent on us to let people know our beaches are in good shape and safe and
clean and will be for years to come.”

 

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