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The increased likelihood of an oil spill near exploration sites and tanker lanes along the Atlantic Coast requires detailed oil spill contingency plans to lessen the adverse effects of spilled oil. To this end, a system called the Environmental Sensitivity Index has been developed which delineates spill-sensitive shoreline environments, wildlife resources, and socioeconomic features. Coastal environments are ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 on the basis of information from previous spill studies; least sensitive environments are designated as 1 and the most sensitive as 10. Oil-sensitive biologic resource information, presented with color-coded markers, shows the distribution of major, legally protected or oil-sensitive wildlife such as marine bird rookeries, anadromous fish pawning sites, marine turtle nesting beaches, and intertidal shellfish beds. Unlike the identification of coastal environments which are determined almost entirely by field observations, most wildlife resources information is taken from the literature. Sources for biologic information are published and unpublished literature, communications with state and local wildlife investigators, and federal documents such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ecological Inventory. Socioeconomic information concerns coastal facilities that would be affected by a spill--public beaches, parks, recreational areas, marinas, etc. Once these spill-sensitive areas are known, the appropriate response activity (primarily boom and skimmer deployment) is added.
Although this system has been applied to most of Alaska, Puget Sound, southern California, Texas, south Florida, South Carolina, and Massachusetts, only two states (with Virginia in progress) have been mapped along the entire Atlantic Coast--not a very good record in light of the expected offshore petroleum potential in the area.
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