Several years ago, Sandra Bullock starred in a movie Hope Floats, which was a quaint, feel-good movie about recovering from an unexpected life-altering blow and finding hope for the future in an unlikely place. If Hope Floats can be used as a phrase for life in the Gulf of Mexico waters, it arrived today in the form of a huge containment boom, which is in the process of being lowered over the largest of the three oil leaks coming from the pipeline 5,000 feet under the surface of the Gulf.
The four-story high dome, constructed of steel and concrete, must be painstakingly lowered to the floor of the Gulf and has never been attempted at the depth of the nearly three-week-old leak. The process is expected to take several days to complete, although the dome should be in place by later this afternoon.
Communities and residents from Louisiana to Florida are taking steps to protect their property; fish, oysters and other wildlife; their personal property and their economic survival from damage from the arriving oil slick, but oil has already washed ashore in Louisiana and up the delta of the Mississippi River. The main oil slick appears to be moving toward the northwest, temporarily, at least, sparing the west coast of Florida from the direct assault of the oncoming wave. Additional controlled burns of the oil at the surface have been completed this week.
Lawsuits have already been filed and a federal judicial panel in Washington has been asked to consolidate at least 65 potential class-action lawsuits claiming economic damage from the spill. Commercial fishermen, business and resort owners, charter boat captains, even would-be vacationers have sued from Texas to Florida, seeking damages that could reach into the billions.
Meanwhile, state, local and federal officials are preparing to deal with multiple health hazards for citizens if the oil reaches shore. Health risks range from assessing what illnesses or ailments might arise from exposure to the toxic slick to what effect the oil will have on seafood consumed nationwide. Officials are monitoring air and water quality and implementing plans to analyze seafood.
So, if Hope Floats, this dome works. What is at stake is multi-faceted – the livelihoods of fisherman and farmers, the eco-system of the entire Gulf, the lives of wildlife and the future of off-shore drilling and how and where it is done.