USCG Cmdr. Adm. Thad Allen
The new commander of the BP-Halliburton oil disaster response believes significant amounts of oil will soon be hitting the fragile beaches and wetlands of the Gulf Coast. Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, was named today the “national incident commander” for the oilpocalypse unfolding from the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig on April 20. His appointment follows Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s declaration that the disaster is a “spill of national significance,” as the oil slick from the underwater gusher tripled in size in one day. Changing wind direction has meant, fortunately, that only the leading edges of the slick have reached the farthest reaches of Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta. In a press briefing this afternoon, Allen explained that the future location of the slick is “dependent on the weather,” but that the sheer volume of oil means that “it’s logical to assume” the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida will be hit:
There’s enough oil out there it’s logical to assume it will impact the shoreline. The question is when and where.
Allen said that the underwater sea of oil will keep growing until BP is able to cap it, a process that “could go for 45 to 90 days.” If oil continues to flow at current rates for that length of time, that would add up to about 90 million gallons of oil, on the scale of the largest oil spills in history. The winds are expected to shift, directing the spill towards the Mississippi and Alabama coasts over the next 72 to 96 hours. The extended network of floating booms being deployed and dispersants sprayed from C-130s will only mitigate, not stop, the oil’s impact.
Allen led a “2002 planning exercise in New Orleans for an oil spill in the Gulf Coast,” and is applying lessons learned from that exercise today. In 2005, Allen rose to public prominence when the hapless FEMA director Michael Brown asked him to take over the Hurricane Katrina response, a week after the global-warming-fueled storm had made landfall, killed thousands, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. It’s a good sign that Allen is being called in this time when this new fossil-industry disaster is just hitting our shores.