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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oil Spill Response

In response to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, specific questions have been raised regarding the possible effects of such a disaster in the San Diego area.

Many of the environmental regulations that are in place today are the result of a massive oil spill which occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara in January, 1969. The spill lasted a total of eleven days, during which time over 200,000 gallons of crude oil bubbled to the surface, then spread into an 800 square mile slick. Tides carried the oil to nearly 35 miles of California coastline. It is estimated that over 3,000 birds were killed the in disaster.

"In the event of a spill in the San Diego area, three government agencies would be directly involved: the US Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Game Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, and the California State Lands Commission," said LTJG Marc Mares of the US Coast Guard in an email response. Each of these agencies have specific duties within what is called the ACP, or Area Contingency Plan. Each agency also has specific jurisdictions. The ACP is updated by the Area Committee, or AC, which is composed of local, state, and federal employees as well as industry and concerned citizens. The AC meets quarterly to discuss oil spill prevention and response, in addition to conducting training exercises.

"From an ecological standpoint, a spill in the Southern California area would differ greatly from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to the massive kelp forests here," said Ryder Gamboa, who is a senior environmental specialist in water toxicology in Orange County. These forests would be impacted on a far greater level than that of a rocky ocean floor. The currents in the Pacific would also play a far different role. "Pacific currents run from north to south," added Gamboa. "This would more than likely push a great deal of the spilled oil towards Mexican waters." The impact upon marine life would also be substantial, with effects lasting decades. "Toxins will find their way into the endocrine systems of fish, which in turn effects their hormone levels and reproductive systems," said Gamboa.

The local seafood industry would also be greatly impacted. "All of the catfish and salmon that we buy come from farms," said Bert Amador, who is a manager at Anthony's Fish Grotto. "But we also buy a lot of local seafood such as swordfish. If there were to be an oil disaster here, we would be forced to buy these types of fish from other places such as Mexico, which in turn would raise the prices for the customer."

Public opinion of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is varied. "I think that it's a crying shame what's going on down there," said 37 year-old Justin Francon of Linda Vista. He shakes his head as he casts his fishing line into the San Diego Bay. "I only hope that this sends a message to people in charge to stop off-shore drilling. I sure don't want to see something like that happen here in our backyard." His fishing companion, who is also casting a line not far away, also chimes in. "I don't really agree with that," said 41 year-old Nat Davis, also of Linda Vista. "You can't just stop drilling for oil because of one spill. But they should be doing something to make it safer, that's for sure," he says.

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