With offshore drilling likely, Bay State coastal towns ready oil spill plans

Offshore drilling on Georges Bank is likely to begin later this year. So some Massachusetts coastal communities are preparing to respond quickly to oil pills, which many see as inevitable.

Local boatsmen, knowledgeable about local wind and tidal currents, are forming oil spill teams.

These teams will tow a line of tube-like "booms" around a moving oil slick to contain or divert it.

This action, federal and state officials say, could help keep a spill from spreading and damaging fishing grounds and beaches.

The US Department of Commerce has given the Massachusetts Coastal Energy Impact Program (CEIP) $100,000 to help fund these plan.

The Massachusetts plan is unique because the emphasis is on local involvement -- doing something until professional help arrives.

Says Bert Garry, a CEIP administrative asssitant, "We'll not be cleaning up the oil, we'll just be containing it or deflecting it away from highly vulnerable areas.

"Contractors say they can often get to a spill within two hours, but we still think that's too long. We want a half-hour response," he adds.

He says the idea for the program came last June after his office received several requests from cities and towns for oil spill cleanup or containment equipment.

Texas A&M University is helping develop the course.

The future of the program hinges on the solution to one major problem -- who pays for liability insurance for the spill squads. Mr. Gary says one answer may be for the US Coast Guard to pay the insurance costs.

If the Coast Guard approves the plan, the squads will call the Coast Guard for approval before responding to a spill.

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