By KEVIN WADLOW
Posted – Saturday, April 07, 2012 10:30 AM EDT
A week before the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Florida Keys emergency planners gather to confront a second oil spill.
Fortunately, the spill this coming Thursday is entirely theoretical. The response will be confined to a tabletop preparation exercise in Key West that tests an updated contingency plan.
“Our team of local planners and stakeholders have worked very hard this past year to update our area contingency plan to include local and regional lessons learned after the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” said Capt. Pat DeQuattro, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West.
“I’m eager for this exercise to test our new plans and to include additional feedback from our local partner agencies,” said DeQuattro, designated as the federal government’s on-scene coordinator for a major spill near the Keys.
During the planning exercise, responders will outline plans to deal with an imagined oil leak from a deepwater drilling platform in the Florida Straits.
Repsol, a Spanish oil company, now is using the Scarabeo 9 drilling platform to search for oil reserves in offshore of Cuba — in waters about 70 miles from Key West.
Given the Keys’ near-miss in the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the spring of 2010, the prospect of drilling for oil in waters that pull the Gulf Stream current past South Florida creates uncertainty among oceanic advocates.
The BP Deepwater Horizon spill spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil — more than 200 million gallons — into the northern Gulf of Mexico after the oil rig exploded, burned and sank on April 20, 2010. Eleven men on it died.
Oil flowed from the sea floor about a mile down for nearly three months until the spill was capped July 15.
Although some government forecasts predicted the massive spill was likely to reach the Keys, favorable oceanic currents apparently kept any Deepwater Horizon oil from reaching Florida Keys waters. However, concern about oceanic pollution devastated the Keys tourism in the 2010 summer months.
During the 2010 spill, officials discovered that Keys response plans and equipment were outdated or inadequate to handle a large-scale spill.
Thursday’s drill organized by the Coast Guard in Key West will test the updated plan.
In addition to several units from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, the Key West exercise will include the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Key West city offices and police department, commercial fishermen, other municipalities and numerous animal-rescue organizations including the Turtle Hospital, Dolphin Research Center and bird-rescue staff.
Special thanks to Richard Charter