Catastrophe hits home

Published 7:15 pm Saturday, May 1, 2010

I’ll have to admit watching the national news the past few days and seeing the images of the once sugar-sugar white beaches of the Gulf Coast now dotted with oil have been extremely upsetting.

As many of you know, I grew up along the Alabama Gulf Coast, spending many weekends playing along the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. I spent other times visiting family along the shoreline of Mobile Bay, catching fish with a cast net and pulling crabs from traps.

When older, I went to bonfires on the beach with friends and enjoyed playing beach volleyball before having to head into a beachside restaurant for my summertime job of busing tables.

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For a portion of my life I was in many ways a beach bum. Even in my first job as an editor — working at the Gulf Shores Islander — I would show up to work on my bike, wearing flip flops, cargo shorts and a t-shirt, having spent some of the morning at the beach.

So, to see the catastrophe building from the collapsed oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and the resulting oil slick is devastating.

I can’t even imagine what damage will be caused to the sensitive oyster beds or what the economic impact will be on the huge shrimping and tourist industries along the Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast.

I was never strongly opposed to the idea of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or along the east coast. Even growing up we saw natural gas rigs just a few miles off the beach and never thought anything about it.

But I would be lying if the recent and ongoing disaster did not make me reconsider my position.

There is no doubt our country’s economic stability relies on safe access to petroleum products. And the need to find home-based sources is crucial, as is the development of non-petroleum and renewable resources.

As editor of the Suffolk News-Herald, I have helped shape the newspaper’s support of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to use the money generated from oil drilling leases to fund much-needed transportation projects in the Commonwealth and more specifically here in the Hampton Roads area. The revenue is needed and important to this area’s future development.

But, what we are seeing along the Gulf Coast gives me great pause and makes me question at what cost does this offshore drilling occur.

It makes me demand more stringent regulation from our government of future oil projects along our shores and requirements of much safer and more dependable equipment. If not, the risk remains of a similar incident happening right here along the Virginia coastline.

The images from the place I once called home are understandably upsetting. But, I can only imagine the heartache I would feel if a similar event happened here, the place I now call home.