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Hard figures on US oil spill impacts are scarce
June 24, 2010 / 5:49 PM / 7 years ago

Hard figures on US oil spill impacts are scarce

* Official reports don’t include cumulative shore impact

* Environmental groups say total mileage data needed

By Bruce Nichols

HOUSTON, June 24 (Reuters) - Even with high-tech aids like satellite images, the U.S. government is finding hard data on the amount of shoreline affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill hard to come by.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top U.S. spill official, has repeatedly pledged to provide a more detailed accounting of shoreline impacts from Louisiana to Florida.

“What we’ll do is we’ll put out a statement later on this morning that actually gives you the actual coastline impacted and the assumptions that are associated with that, so you actually (have) something in writing,” he promised during a June 18 briefing.

Such data has yet to be provided.

“This is very troubling,” said Kristina Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, an environmental group. “It’s really important that the American people have accurate information about what’s going on in the Gulf.”

Data on cumulative shoreline impact is not available, said Coast Guard spokesman Capt. Ron LaBrec. “We currently don’t have the cumulative number from across the region.”

Environmental groups are dismayed at the lack of information while conceding how hard it is to measure winding miles of marshes, inlets and beaches impacted by the spill from Louisiana to Florida.

PROTECTING TOURISM

Gulf Coast officials are in a tricky position. They must respond to the crisis without damaging a multi-billion dollar tourism industry vulnerable to negative headlines.

In Florida, the “Sunshine State,” tourism generates $60 billion in spending from more than 80 million visitors a year, bringing in 21 percent of state sales tax receipts and employing nearly 1 million people.

“We don’t want to take the ‘sky is falling’ attitude about this,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said on Wednesday, standing on a white sand beach in Pensacola marred by tar balls.

“We want to see it, we want to address it, we want to clean it up and stay after it,” Crist said.

The Coast Guard estimates the miles of shoreline impacted on any given day, but no cumulative data is available.

Allen said on Wednesday the daily reported shoreline impact numbers, which have varied from 59 miles (95 km) to 173 miles (278 km) in the past few days, is “just a current snapshot of the impacted shoreline that we’re dealing with in a particular time period. It’s not cumulative.”

Cumulative state numbers from Louisiana and Florida come to more than 300 miles (483 km) hit since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the ensuing oil spill. Mississippi and Alabama officials were unable to provide more than rough estimates.

Allen said shoreline deemed cleaned is removed from the total reported every day.

Despite the billions of dollars worth of tourism at stake, the U.S. government should not downplay the spill’s damage, environmental groups said.

“We know that BP <BP.L BP.N> wants to minimize and downplay this,” said Aaron Viles of the Gulf Restoration Network. “The federal government should be doing nothing to assist them and should in fact be giving us the best numbers, the most up to date impact of this disaster.”

Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore, editing by Alan Elsner

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