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The Gulf oil spill

The Gulf spill on April 29, 2010. Photo: AP Photo/NASA

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been front page news since April 20, when an explosion on the Horizon Deepwater oil rig sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil spewing into the gulf and claimed 11 lives. Despite the nonstop coverage, here are five things that you might not know about the leak/fiasco:

1. Environmental disaster in the making it may be, but the Horizon Deepwater spill has a ways to go before even breaking into the world’s biggest spills. The second largest, also in the Gulf of Mexico, was 1979’s Ixtoc 1, which, like Horizon Deepwater, was also a well blowout rather than a finite tanker spill.

At the rate the Horizon Deepwater spew is going, it would take nine years to match Ixtoc 1’s three million barrels spilled. That being said, this year’s disaster could ultimately have longer lasting effects as the crude oil is washing up in sensitive wetland areas rather than just on sandy beaches where it’s easier to clean.

2. A month ago, on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, the Coast Guard and 50 other federal, state and commercial agencies held their triennialSuper Bowl of response exercises” to practice addressing a Spill of National Significance (SONS). More than 600 participants from more than 50 agencies simulated a 69,000-barrel crude oil spill approximately 16 miles off the coast of Maine. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)‘s Office of Response & Restoration touted a new web-based “situational awareness tool” called ERMA and Coast Guard officials hailed the event as a total success.

So, is that like the success of Super Bowl XXXVII champions the Tampa Bay Bucs who didn’t make the playoffs the following season?

3. One of the populations that could be hardest hit is the area’s Vietnamese-American community. Thousands of people who came to the U.S. as refugees in the 1980s brought their experience in the fishing and shrimping trades and settled along the Gulf Coast. According to Bichnga “Jay” Boulet, a NOAA employee who regularly translates regulations for the Vietnamese-speaking community, many “were not able to learn new skills and have had hard times learning English in a short time period.” Let’s keep our fingers crossed someone is giving thought to job training if people are forced out of the fishing industry.

4. Mayor-elect of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, has been consumed with oil spill meetings during his transition. “It’s potentially very devastating to the coast and the fisheries, the  ecosystem … We have been telling people for 30 years, and of course  we’ve been yelling into the wind … how important Louisiana’s coast is to the rest of the nation,” he said in a recent interview. Interestingly, his sister, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) who has been a longtime cheerleader for expanded offshore drilling was getting criticized on The Huffington Post for minimizing the potential for and impact of the spill. Not quite at loggerheads, but you have to wonder if they see eye to eye on oil rigs in the Gulf.

5. Don’t you think it’s crazy how SWAT teams are going out to examine rigs in the Gulf? There are definitely some folks who do. Former Reagan cabinet adviser Mark Levin has called it a “stunner,” and says, “I think those SWAT teams are there in coordination with the attorney general’s office, the Interior Department, Homeland Security, maybe the EPA to gather records, to seize records at these sites and to  lay the foundation for more government takeovers.” But are they SWAT teams? Or teams from SWAT Consulting?  Or Soil and Water Assessment Tools? Or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) teams? Or does it simply stand for Swift Action Team? The latter seems the best guess, but feel free to let your conspiracy theories run rampant until we get a definitive answer.