Cover Story: Gulf oil spill - Carolinas ready?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The nation's eyes are still fixated on the broken pipe at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tuesday night, the President of the United States will address the country.  He'll tell us about the latest efforts to contain the oil spill.

It's still spewing and no end in sight.  And there's an increasing chance that slick could creep up to the Carolina coast.

North Carolina has an emergency plan in place, but just how ready are we?

Governor Perdue is asking state officials to update the state's oil recovery plan and do it quickly - by next Monday.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, the images from the Gulf say it all.  Some fear could wind up here.

Says one Gulf coast resident, "Every day it gets worse.  It's never ending."

A computer model by the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows that oil leaking from the well could enter the ocean currents and reach the Carolina shores.

Researchers say oil could threaten East Coast beaches (we might see tar balls here) by early next month.  But they caution the models are not a forecast.

"If the loop current does catch hold of the spill then North Carolina is prepared to deal with whatever comes our way," says Gov. Perdue on Tuesday.

Perdue ordered the State Emergency Response Team to update its oil recovery plan by June 21st.

The 50-page protocol is part of a larger 600 page Emergency Operations Plan the state has to deal with any disaster.  The oil recovery documents were created after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska 21 years ago.

It's updated annually, but is being rushed this year just in case this should it hit here.

"Drill baby drill" was the rally cry two years ago when gas surged to four dollars a gallon.  It prompted cries for America to begin drilling offshore in areas that have been off-limits - like the Carolinas.

But a poll conducted by Elon University at about the time the Gulf disaster was breaking found two out of three North Carolinians still support drilling for oil and gas off our coast.

That's an opinion reflected on the streets of Charlotte.  "It's less about whether or not we should drill and more about the responsibilities that those that are doing the drilling to ensure that they are protecting our environment really," says Jose Borbor of Charlotte.

Governor Perdue says she isn't completely opposed to drilling off the North Carolina coast.  If it's done - she wants to make sure it's safe.  Safe meaning that if there is a spill there's a plan in place to keep the oil from reaching the shore.  Right now there's a federal moratorium on any new offshore oil drilling.

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