Barbour: Oil not immediate threat, asks for National Guard mobilization

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Published: May 3,2010

Tags: offshore drilling, oil and gas, oil spill

GULF OF MEXICO — Mississippi’s coastline is in no immediate danger from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to state and Coast Guard officials. However, Mississippi is one of three states requesting National Guard mobilization.

Right now the spill is 40 to 50 miles wide and 80 to 90 miles long, but has remained in the vicinity of the well from which it is leaking, said Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard.

“It has never really been pointed at Mississippi,” he said yester evening in Biloxi during a press briefing.

Though it is impossible to guess where the oil might head, if it starts moving toward the Mississippi coast, the state would get a 72 to 96 hour advanced notice, Allen said. That notice has not yet been given.

What preventative measures can be taken, have been, Gov. Haley Barbour said. Those include monitoring of air and water quality is ongoing. Booms have been placed to protect the most fragile places, including animal habitats and the entry to Saint Louis Bay.

Barbour dismissed rumors that anyone was trying to make Gulfport or other areas of the Mississippi Coast a landing area for the oil, by directing its flow to the manmade beaches here, which would be easier to clean than wetlands.

“If BP could put the oil where they wanted, they’d put it on Cuba — let’s not kid ourselves,” Barbour said. “The idea that someone is trying to push the oil somewhere is just fantasy.”

Though the state is preparing for the worst-case scenario, Barbour said he doesn’t believe things will even come close to that.

At most, Barbour thinks the state will see some of the so-called oil sheen — the thinnest tendrils of the oil — reach the coast. But with good weather forecast for the week, good seas and favorable wind conditions, the efforts to disperse the oil in the Gulf may finally gain momentum and Mississippi could be spared all together, he said.

Barbour also said state waters remain open for fishing. Earlier on Sunday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed federal waters to commercial and recreational fishing.

At the same time, the Pentagon says Alabama, Florida and Mississippi have requested the federal mobilization of National Guard troops to aid clean-up efforts along the Gulf Coast.

Col. Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman, said to that those requests are similar to one made last week by Louisiana.

That request allowed up to 6,000 National Guard troops, paid for by the federal government under Title 32 law, to be made available to Louisiana. So far, on-site coordinators have called in only 600 of those Guard troops, although defense officials say that number could go higher.

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