MS National Guard tracks oil in the Gulf - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

MS National Guard tracks oil in the Gulf

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi National Guard has taken to the air to help keep oil out of state waters. Officials say 60 guardsmen have been activated as part of Task Force Vigilant Horizon. Their mission is to fly daily over the Gulf of Mexico then use those their findings to support clean up efforts.

So far guardsmen have spent more than 200 hours flying over the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama coastlines. They say spotting oil in the water is easier from above.

"You only have a limited number of resources," Lt. Col. Don Randle. "It's a big body of water and a lot of little vessels. So if you can pinpoint it with an aircraft where you can see a broader area, you get the vessels there a lot quicker. The cleanup starts faster, and you get a lot quicker relief."

Guard members say they fly out looking for oil at night so first thing in the morning they can direct clean up boats exactly where to go. During the daylight hours the guardsmen continue to survey from the sky.

"We also do recognizance in the daytime, boom recognizance so we can send in repair crews to maintain the booms," Lt. Col. Don Randle. "A lot of the storms that come in. A lot of the wave action breaks the booms up, and they need to be repaired on a day to day basis."

This media flight went over the Deepwater Horizon site where reporters saw first hand some of the efforts underway to remove the oil from the Gulf including controlled burns and skimming.

Lt. Col. Randle said "What's occurring there is they're dragging across the water catching as much oil as they can. Then they're running it through a processor, separating it out to not only cleanup the operation but to be able to process the oil for our use."

The National Guard says it wants Mississippians to know it's committed to the goal set by Governor Haley Barbour that the state keep the oil from moving north of the barrier islands

Lt. Col. Randle said, "It's a bad situation but there are a lot of efforts going to deal with it. We're lucky in Mississippi that we've been able to keep it off our shoreline."

The Mississippi Department Of Environmental Quality was also the flight. MDEQ officials say in the battle to keep oil out of Mississippi waters, getting the latest and most up to date information is vital.

The staff from the department of environmental quality staff boarded a Mississippi National guard flight. Officials say these trips give a better idea of where the oil is now and how to keep it from heading our way. The staff says MDEQ and the Department of Marine Resources tag along for every plane or boat ride they can.

"Being out here we can actually see where the oil is. See how close it is," said Barbara Viskup, MDEQ Environmental Scientist. "Get GPS coordinates right here. Bring it right back to the Command Center and tell them where they need to send the vessels to in order to get the vessels out here to start cleaning it up."

The barrier islands are Mississippi's first line of defense against the oil. MDEQ says the goal is to keep the oil away from the most ecologically sensitive areas.

"We have primary areas like our marshes," Viskup. "Especially on the north side of our islands, that we really don't want any oil to get to because it's a lot harder to clean up. We prefer if the oil does come in to go to our beaches. The beaches are a lot easier to clean. But like I said we're trying to access it and prevent it from getting to our beaches if possible."

Officials say recent survey trips show to fight to keep oil out of Mississippi waters has been mostly successful so far.

Earl Etheridge is MDEQ's On-Scene Coordinator.  "Other than some very light sheen, we saw no oil in Mississippi waters. We did see some southeast of Petit Bois in Alabama waters and father south of the barrier islands," he said.

"Some very small areas of emulsified oil out in federal waters south of the barrier islands, south of Petit Bois," Etheridge said. "We're in much better shape and the oil look much less of a threat to Mississippi than it did earlier in the week."

This weekend oil cleanup continued of an oil mousse on Petit Bois island.

Etheridge said, "From what I could see from the air today and what we saw on the beach earlier in the week, looks like most of it has been removed.  There might be some very small minor pockets, but the majority of it has been cleaned up."

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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