TRENTON — While it is improbable the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana will have any effect on the Jersey Shore or the state’s fishing industry this summer, the Department of Environmental Protection is not taking any chances.
Commissioner Bob Martin today announced formation of a special Gulf Spill Team to closely monitor the situation, to create a unique scientific model of the likely path of the contaminated waters, and to develop a plan of action if the oil should reach New Jersey. That team will consist of DEP officials and experts, plus outside scientists who are offering their services to the state.
“Right now, we are very optimistic the oil will not reach New Jersey and will not affect fishing nor the summer beach season. Our beaches will be open for business, with the summer season kicking off this Memorial Day weekend, ” said Martin. “However, we are keeping close watch on this situation to be prepared for any possible scenario.”
The DEP, State Police, State Emergency Management, New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and others are now working to put together a plan of action to deal with the unlikely possibility the oil could impact New Jersey.
Scientists have told the DEP it is not likely the oil will reach New Jersey beaches, making it clear that for the oil slick to hit the Jersey coast, “it would require a sequence of unlikely events.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been the lead agency in dealing with the situation nationally, providing daily briefings to New Jersey and other states that could be affected by the spill. But Commissioner Martin has directed the special Gulf Spill Team to create a unique model of the potential course of the oil for New Jersey.
“We want to gather the best scientific data available to help guide us,” said Martin. “We have to be fully prepared to protect the interests and residents of this state. But we expect, at this point, that our beaches will be open and we’ll have a great summer season in New Jersey.”
The DEP has been monitoring the oil spill situation on a daily basis, as well as receiving briefings from federal scientists. Additionally, the DEP has been working with scientists on staff, plus experts from Rutgers University and Stevens Institute of Technology, to map the potential flow of the oil spill and develop models of the potential flow of oil out of the Gulf of Mexico, and possibly up the East Coast.
Scientists are mapping a variety of possibilities, creating models for best case to worst case scenarios, taking into effect water currents, depths, temperatures and salinity, plus weather conditions, including potential hurricanes and tropical storms. Rutgers University has a “glider” device currently in Gulf waters trying to help scientifically analyze the situation in lower depths.
There is a possibility the oil will head west from the Gulf of Mexico, away from the East Coast, scientists have told the DEP. It is also possible the oil could move east, towards Florida and the Gulf Stream, which would eventually pull it north, towards the Carolinas. That would move the flow towards Cape Hatteras and then a likely flow east into the Atlantic, away from the coast and towards Europe.
But there are unknown factors, including storms, which could cause some portions of that oil plume to break off from the main body and head north, towards New Jersey, according to scientists. If that unlikely scenario occurs, the oil could sporadically show up at isolated sites along the New Jersey coast, probably in the form of tar balls — hard-shelled, soft-centered objects — which, depending on the size and proximity to the shore, could environmentally impact the state’s beaches, fisheries and wildlife late in the summer.
“We are running models every day. Trying to forecast what will happen,” said Josh Kohut, assistant professor of Marine and Coastal Science for the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. “We are seeking independent validation of what is going on.”
Kohut and Alan Blumberg, director of ocean engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Maritime Systems, are both assisting the DEP in assessing the oil spill.
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