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    Oil Spill Affects Economy, Wildlife

    By By AccuWeather.com's Carly Porter and Victoria Atkinson
    April 30, 2010, 9:08:11 AM EDT

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    Environmental and economic impacts will be severe in the Mississippi Delta if the Gulf Coast oil rig spill ends up reaching coastlines by this weekend, as predicted by AccuWeather.com meteorologists.

    The U.S. Coast Guard said the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill could become among the worst in U.S. history.

    To put this in perspective, recall the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. This spill was a devastating human-induced disaster.

    The Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound. Its location was only accessible by air or sea, further complicating cleanup matters.

    It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of animals and sea life died immediately, and researchers at the University of North Carolina reported that it may take up to 30 years for the populations of these animals to recover.

    Exxon spent billions cleaning up the spill and paying out settlements to various industries, such as fishing and tourism.

    Some argue the pristine condition of Prince William Sound is no more, and this is something no amount of money can bring back.

    Disasters like this can forever alter the land.

    In 1969, more than 100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel and onto the beaches of Santa Barbara County.

    "When I was riding my motorbike and stopped for the night in Santa Barbara, I was astounded at how fast the drift wood burned," said Randy Lanctot, Executive Director of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. "Then I remembered the oil spill that happened there over 40 years ago."

    Thousands of birds were killed in this ecological disaster, and it was detrimental to the coast.

    Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Spill

    The spill is located within miles of the Louisiana wetlands, and the environment and economy are already starting to feel the dense, pungent effects of the spill.

    The German reinsurer Hannover Re said they are expecting more than $52.7 million in losses as a result of the oil rig spill, as reported by the Associated Press. As economic data becomes available, other companies are sure to report losses as well.

    "We are scared to death because the rig is still leaking," Lanctot said. "There are reports that the oil is already reaching the shoreline."

    Louisiana is one of the largest seafood producers nationwide and has some of the richest oyster beds and shrimping waters in the lower 48 states.

    "Louisiana is the largest producer of the Blue Crab," he said. "We also harvest oysters and shrimp, and these economies are going to be greatly affected."

    Shrimp harvest usually takes place in the early parts of May, but Louisiana fishing authorities opened the waters early, hoping fisherman could get the most out of the harvest before the spill arrives.

    Other wildlife at risk live along the 3 million acres of Louisiana's wetlands. Game fish, as well as various bird species that call the marshes home, have potential to be killed or displaced by the spill.


    "Our state bird, the Brown Pelican, is going to be one of the main bird species affected," said Lanctot. "They are nesting now, and they occupy low-lying areas along the coast."

    The sad part about this is that they were recently just removed from the endangered species list, he noted. Now their lives are being threatened again.

    An already fragile economic state after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the region in 2005, tourism and recreation will be brought to a standstill if oil inundates the area.

    "This spill isn't going to harm people or ruin houses like Hurricane Katrina did," said Lanctot. "It is going to hurt the food chain, livelihoods and economies, however."

    The Mississippi Delta is a famous sport fishing destination, and fishing guides operating out of the mouth of the Mississippi River could find themselves out of a job.

    The Delta also provides a challenge for recovery efforts.

    "It is remote, and volunteers cannot drive to the sites; they will need to take a boat out of the mouth of the river," said Lanctot. "That area is all harsh wetlands and marsh."

    The Louisiana Wildlife Federation mostly does humanitarian efforts when disasters strike. For this oil spill, however, it may not be so successful, because they are faced with numerous obstacles.

    "First, many animals are going to be affected. Once we get to them, it is hard to clean them of the oil," said Lanctot. "The oil absorbs through their skin, and it hinders flight. It can turn fatal."

    Pristine beaches that pepper the Gulf shores could become blackened by oil, drastically impacting tourism there.

    If oil does indeed reach the shore this weekend, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is likely to overshadow Exxon Valdez in the history books.

    "We are going to do everything we can to minimize the impact of this," said Lanctot. "We have major concerns, but we also have hope."

    Related to the Story: Winds to Continue Pushing Oil Slick Ashore This Weekend Southeast Radar Southeast Satellite Forecast Weather Maps Severe Weather Center

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