- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2010

NEW ORLEANS l The calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t just a mess for the people who live or work on the coast. If you drink coffee, eat shrimp, like bananas or plan to buy a new set of tires, you could end up paying more because of the disaster.

The slick has forced the shutdown of the gulf’s rich fishing grounds and also could spread to the busy shipping lanes at the mouth of the Mississippi River, tying up the cargo vessels that move millions of tons of fruit, rubber, grain, steel and other commodities and raw materials in and out of the nation’s interior.

Though a total shutdown of the shipping lanes is unlikely, there could be long delays if vessels are forced to wait to have their oil-coated hulls power-washed to avoid contaminating the Mississippi.

Some cargo ships might choose to unload somewhere else in the U.S. That could drive up costs.

“Let’s say it gets real bad. It gets blocked off and they don’t let anything in. They lose time, and they are very concerned about that,” said river pilot Michael Lorino. “It’s going to be very costly if they have to unload that cargo in another port and ship it back here because it was destined for here.”

When a tanker and a tugboat collided near New Orleans two years ago, oil cascaded down the river, and about 200 ships stacked up, unable to move for several days while the Coast Guard had the vessels scrubbed. Millions of dollars were lost.

Several riverboat pilots said the edge of the oil slick Monday was 15 to 20 miles off the Southwest Pass, where ships headed to New Orleans enter the Mississippi.

Crews have been struggling to stop the more than 200,000 gallons a day spewing from the sea after an offshore drilling platform blew up and sank last month in a disaster that killed 11 workers. The accident is the worst U.S. oil spill since the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989, leaking nearly 11 million gallons of crude.

Chemical dispersants seemed to be helping to keep oil from floating to the surface, but crews haven’t been able to activate a shut-off valve underwater. It could take another week before a 98-ton concrete-and-metal box is placed over one of the leaks to capture the oil.

More ominously, it could take three months to drill sideways into the well and plug it with mud and concrete.

BP said Monday it would compensate people for “legitimate and objectively verifiable” claims from the explosion and spill, but President Obama and others pressed the company to explain exactly what that means.

By all accounts, the disaster is certain to cost BP billions, but analysts said the company could handle it; BP is the world’s third-largest oil company and made more than $6 billion in the first three months of this year.


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