A convoy of eight Long Island oil-spill experts laden with trucks, boats and equipment left Calverton on Friday to help defend the Gulf Coast against a giant oil slick.
The crew from Miller Environmental Group is expected to arrive Saturday at a staging area in Pensacola, Fla. It is one of six areas along the Gulf shoreline where barriers are being set to try and contain the oil, which threatens marine, bird and plant life in four states.
"They're kind of the last line of defense before the oil hits the shore," chief executive Mark Miller said of the crew. "They'll be getting there sometime in the very, very early morning."
Other teams from his company and National Response Corp. - a Great River firm that specializes in oil spill prevention and cleanup - are already down in the Gulf. Those crews are battling the oil from large boats out in deep water. Experts fear the scope of the spill, which began last week, could exceed the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in which more than 100,000 animals died and Exxon spent more than $2.1 billion to clean.
National Response is one of the contractors designated to respond to oil spills and other emergencies by BP, which leased the rig. The company had six boats stationed on the Gulf from Miami to Corpus Christi, Texas, at the ready, said president Steven Candito.
"Right now those vessels are out there in the deeper water," Candito said. "We were mobilizing that first day, when it was a fire and no oil was in the water yet."
The Miller Environmental team is bringing a range of devices to skim oil from the water. One piece of equipment about the size of a dining table floats and has a series of conveyor belts on it that remove the oil. Another, a disk skimmer, has disks or platters that rotate. The oil clings the side, and Teflon scrapers skim it off, Miller said.
National Response has sent at least six Long Islanders to Houma, La. They are providing operational, logistical and financial support from a joint command center set up by the Coast Guard, BP and the federal Minerals Management Service.
More than 217,000 feet of oil-soaking booms has been laid down so far to contain the spill, according to the spill command center. In offshore areas booms might be as tall as 40 inches, to withstand 6- to 8-foot waves, Candito said. "Once we've got it corralled, we try to pick it up with a skimmer," he said.
A 10-person team from Miller Environmental flew in earlier this week to work aboard one of the large recovery vessels about 45 miles offshore. "They're out there 24 hours a day on a 210-foot ship," Miller said.
A spill of this magnitude will likely test the ingenuity of cleanup crews in ways never before encountered, he said.
"We've been involved in every spill of size in the U.S., including the Exxon Valdez and very large spills in the Caribbean basin," Miller said. "Every big event in the past 40 years, and I have never experienced anything like this."