June 13, 2010

Mainers head south to Gulf as oil continues to flow

Mainers from diverse backgrounds are helping to deal with the environmental and economic catastrophe.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As thousands of barrels of oil continue to spew into the Gulf of Mexico each day from the BP oil well, a growing number of Mainers are heading south to help deal with the catastrophe.

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Beth Quimby, environmental reporter for The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, will travel to the Louisiana and Alabama coasts this week to tell the story of the Gulf oil spill by chronicling the efforts of some of the many Mainers who are there to help.
Quimby will file daily and weekend stories, blog entries, photos and video on the Web and in print, capturing the environmental and economic disaster unfolding there.

The reinforcements include Coast Guard personnel, environmental cleanup companies, state officials with technical expertise, wildlife biologists, economic and academic researchers, students and others.

As the massive leak nears the two-month mark, the list continues to grow. And this week, The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram will join them to tell the story of the environmental and economic disaster through the efforts of Mainers who are pitching in. Reports, which will appear in print and on the Web, will include stories, blog entries, photos and video.

The Mainers at work there are a diverse group.

Two state government employees are lending their technical expertise to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is providing weather and biological response services to the federal and local governments.

A Maine crew from Clean Harbors, an environmental cleanup company, is helping to remove oil from the beaches on Dauphin Island in Alabama.

One Maine businessman left for the Gulf late last week to demonstrate his company's oil detection technology to federal oil spill response officials, hoping they will put him to work.

From South Portland, a contingent of Coast Guard personnel are in the field helping to burn off the oil now collecting on the ocean's surface.

Some Mainers have already been to the Gulf and back.

Michael Herz, an environmental advocate from Damariscotta, toured the region last month with the Gulf Coast Fund. The fund was set up after Hurricane Katrina to give grants to spur economic development and the creation of social services, creating a network for under-served rural Gulf Coast communities.

"It was as if they were developing a response program for the next crisis -- and lo and behold, here it is," he said.

Herz served on an oil-spill commission set up by the governor of Alaska to respond to the Exxon Valdez spill, which dumped 250,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989.

Herz said he went to Louisiana expecting to find an environmental disaster and discovered an economic fiasco, as well. He said he met with residents who complained about the noise from helicopters spraying dispersants. Herz said they felt invaded.

"It is very much like Vietnam and Agent Orange. They are very upset," Herz said.

He saw many similarities between the Maine and Gulf coasts. Both regions, he said, are totally tied to the water, supporting fishermen and tourism-related businesses.

"Imagine what would happen if the lobster population were to collapse," Herz said.

Graham Shimmield, president and executive director of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor, met with other scientists earlier this month at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to assess oil spill research needs.

Shimmield was chairman of an oil emergency response team from 2005 to 2008 for the Sullom Voe, Europe's largest offshore oil terminal, located in the North Sea off the Shetland coast in Scotland.

Bigelow Laboratory will probably be involved in ongoing research related to the spill, said Tatiana Brailovskaya, the lab's director of communications. Shimmield will likely give a public talk about the oil spill in the coming weeks, Brailovskaya said.

Curiosity prompted John Wise, a professor of toxicology and molecular epidemiology at the University of Southern Maine, to inspect the oil spill damage during a layover between flights in New Orleans.

Wise and a colleague headed to Grand Isle on the Louisiana coast, walked out on a pier and saw the chunks of oil on the beach.

(Continued on page 2)

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