National Parks brace for an oily impact

Friday - 5/28/2010, 10:48am EDT

Jon Jarvis, Director, National Park Service

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

On April 20, within hours after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, teams from the National Park Service were responding.

Jon Jarvis, NPS Director, told Federal News Radio, "unfortunately, we in the National Park Service have a lot of experience at this. This is certainly not the first oil spill that we ever dealt with."

And yet, in some ways, this spill is different.

New government estimates Thursday put the size of the spill at nearly 18 million to 39 million gallons over the past five weeks, surpassing the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska. Then, nearly 11 million gallons spilled.

Jarvis said he sent the teams, trained to respond to all forms of incidents - "fires, terrorist incidents, and oil spills just being one of those" so quickly because it was clear, this spill was going to be a challenge.

"I got 'em out in front of this because recognizing almost immediately this is an unprecedented type of spill, that it's coming up from a mile down, it's a continuous flow, the technology for shutting it down is not cut and dry, and so we needed to get out on top of it really fast."

Jarvis said he drew on his experience from twenty years ago.

One of the big lessons that we learned from Exxon Valdez is that we didn't have time to get out in front of the oil before it reached the beaches in Prince William Sound. We didn't have, really, much of a baseline of information. We're in a little better shape down here in terms of baseline just in general.

Having had that experience, and with other tanker-related oil spills, it was easier to see what would be needed here, said Jarvis.

(With tankers) you have sort of a fixed location. You have a fixed amount of oil. You have a strategy around containment of the effects. This incident is unprecedented in that it is a continuous flow of oil into the Gulf and requires a rethinking of that kind of strategy.

As noted in the NPS's Morning Report for May 28, debris from the explosion washing ashore is both helping investigators while slowing the clean up. "The debris," notes the report, "represents potential evidence in the ongoing USCG investigation and has caused a disruption in normal shoreline clean-up tasks."

Jarvis said that over a million feet of boom has been deployed so far to slow the spread of the spill, but he realistically said that with the hurricane season approaching, "and as long as there is a present slick of oil on the surface of the Gulf, then... there is a very high probability that oil will come ashore."

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For part two of our interview with Director Jarvis on the next hundred years for the National Park Service, click here.