Coast Guard Prepares for International Offshore Drilling Close to our Shores

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November 19, 2011

With Cuba’s move to offshore drilling just 60 miles off the coast of Key West, the USCG, along with partner agencies, continue to make preparations for a worst-case-scenario close to our borders yet out of our control.

MIAMI — The U.S. Coast Guard continues to work closely with federal, state and local agencies as well as maritime industry officials to update contingency plans to ensure readiness to respond to any potential oil spills in international waters that could potentially impact U.S. waters and coastline.

At the local-level, Coast Guard Sectors Jacksonville, Miami, Key West and St. Petersburg are updating their respective Area Contingency Plan, which will have specific response guidance pertaining to, the near and on-shore response efforts to be conducted along all of the State of Florida coastline that is within the 7th Coast Guard District’s area of responsibility.

On a broader scale, the Coast Guard is overseeing work on an Offshore Drill Response Plan and Regional Contingency Plan that focuses on response operations; strategies and tactics that will be employed out at sea to combat a spill and other response operations.

“Our primary focus for the past several months has been updating our contingency plans, ensuring they are ready to be activated in the event an incident was to occur that posed a substantial risk to our marine environment, and ensuring that lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are incorporated into our plans,” said Capt. John Slaughter, chief of planning, readiness, and response for the 7th Coast Guard District.

Another important focus has been ongoing interagency engagement. More than 80 Coast Guard representatives and officials from South Florida coastal counties, Departments of Commerce, Defense, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Department of Treasury, Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Florida Department of Environmental Management and Department of Environmental Protection, and maritime industry held a table top exercise Thursday utilizing response plans to address a fictitious international spill off the coast of Florida. The exercise allowed participants to discuss sensitive environmental areas, planning strategies, likely issues and response coordination principles that responders would face, as well as gather additional information to use in future planning.

“Our engagement with these preparedness efforts has been and continues to be far reaching and therefore includes a host of federal, state, and local and private entities,” added Slaughter.

The exercise is one of the many actions to ensure readiness and mutual cooperation among the U.S. response community. As the designated federal on scene coordinator for any coastal spill, the Coast Guard’s objective is to ensure the response community has the opportunity to review plans, identify needed updates and be ready for proposed offshore drilling outside U.S. waters.

“Protecting the marine environment from accidental oil and chemical spills is a key mission of the U.S. Coast Guard,” said Rear Adm. Bill Baumgartner, commander of the 7th Coast Guard District. “These efforts are ongoing and the U.S. Coast Guard will continue to maximize information sharing, preparation, and training with all involved to ensure sound strategies and liaisons are built to prepare for and respond to any potential environmental threat to U.S. waters.”

Source: United States Coast Guard

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