State preparing for possible oil slick hit on coast

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 27, 2010

GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) — Alabama officials were preparing Monday in case the state’s beaches and wetlands are hit by an oil slick from the petroleum rig that exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana.

State environmental officials held a conference call with emergency planners, and contractors already were preparing to try to contain any damage from the spill.

The emergency management director in coastal Baldwin County, Leigh Anne Ryals, said experts were monitoring winds and currents in the Gulf of Mexico to determine which way the oil would move. A shift in winds could drive the slick north toward the coast starting Thursday, she said.

“It is an area of great concern, not just for the environment and the fishing but economically, with what it would do to tourism. That tax revenue drives the whole state,” she said.

The coast could be affected this week if crews can’t cut off an estimated 42,000 gallons of oil that is leaking daily. Small spills occur time to time on the rigs that dot the horizon off Alabama’s coast, Ryals said, but those don’t compare to the amount of potential damage from the fractured rig.

“This is certainly the largest thing like this that I’ve seen, and I’ve been with the county for 16 years,” said Ryals.

Alabama has 60 miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico, and the tidal shoreline that borders all the coastal waters including Mobile Bay is about 600 miles long, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.