Oil Threatens Fragile Coastline
GUY RAZ, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
At this hour, oil continues to move toward the fragile marshes and spawning grounds of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Coast Guard estimates that as much as two million gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf from a pipe 5,000 feet underwater and about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
The worst part is no one's certain, at least not yet, when that oil gush can be contained. It is very possible that the environmental impact of the spill could eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
NPR's Greg Allen is covering the story in Pass Christian, Mississippi. And, Greg, give us a sense of the extent of the oil slick at this point.
GREG ALLEN: Well, Guy, you know, it's been growing very quickly. And that's one thing that has many people who follow this concerned. The (unintelligible) right now are that, you know, it's somewhere between, like, 1.6 million, maybe two million gallons. That's a lot of oil. But in comparison, you know, Exxon Valdez was nearly 11 million gallons.
But there's concern by people that the slick is getting so big. Just a few days ago, it was as large as the state of Rhode Island. Now we believe it's larger than the whole territory of Puerto Rico.
It's getting larger very quickly. And the concern is there could be a lot more oil out there than we believe right now. And so that's the big uncertainty right now. How much oil is out there? We just don't know.
RAZ: And presumably, this is going to get worse. I imagine that officials and meteorologists are looking at weather patterns and so on to try and predict where it's headed.
ALLEN: I'm over here in Mississippi and there's a lot of fishing industry. There's a lot of other industry here that's very reliant on the Gulf for tourism, for other commercial reasons, and they're scared to death because it's going to come this way. It just depends upon the vagaries of the wind.
The other thing people are concerned about is that we don't really know exactly what grade of oil is coming out and that it's probably various viscosities, various weights. And there's a belief that a lot of the heavy oil might be along the bottom. So the full impact here is still very far from being figured out where it's going to be.
RAZ: Greg, you've been talking to some shrimpers there in Mississippi, what are they saying?
ALLEN: Well, you know, this is a group that's just totally despondent now. You know, as you know, shrimpers, fishermen, they have a hard time to make a living anytime, it depends on the vagaries of weather and the economy. And as it happens, the shrimp and oystering season here in Mississippi actually kind of came to a close yesterday. So this is a kind of a quiet time for them.
But one of their best seasons was coming up here, is the brown shrimp season, which starts just in another month or so. And they're looking at that now as being a total loss. In fact, most of them are thinking they'll never be shrimping or oystering again, that they just think that they'll be out of the business. That there's nothing here for their sons or daughters because they just think the devastation is going to be that great.
RAZ: Obviously, an enormous impact on the fishing industry, Greg. But presumably, this is going to have a much wider impact on the economy as a whole.
ALLEN: Exactly. I was talking to (unintelligible), the Sierra Club director in Mississippi who called it the Gulf Coast Chernobyl. They believe it's going to be much worse than Katrina.
And what we're talking about here is not just of course the fishing, the oystering, the shrimping industry, but also the entire tourism industry, for charter boat captains, for beaches. There's beautiful beaches, as you know, along the Gulf Coast here. But what's the concern is - the belief is they will be shut down. And so, you're talking about hotels, restaurants, it's an economic devastation that they've not seen since Katrina.
And what's worse is after Katrina, of course, they knew there was going to be rebuilding money. There would be construction jobs. There'd be all of that money that flowed into the Gulf. They're not sure there'll be anything like that after this. So, there's a lot of despondency here that they'll be hit by this economic disaster with no way out of it.
RAZ: That really is a tragedy. That is NPR's Greg Allen in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
Greg, thanks so much.
ALLEN: My pleasure.