Chip Merlin - BP Oil Spill Could Be Worse Than Any Hurricane Damage and Much More Widespread--Even the East Coast of Florida Could Be Impacted

   By Chip Merlin, Managing Partner, Merlin Law Group

I hate to make doomsday predictions, but there is a possibility that the BP Oil Spill could be worse than any hurricane or catastrophe that I have been involved with. I spent yesterday speaking with others about the current situation. Indeed, my father teaches those in the oil industry how to recover and react to oil spills. Unless the source of the oil is stopped or slows down soon, oil is going to be all over the northern Gulf Coast and Florida. If the spill cannot be contained or slowed in the near future, it will significantly impact our economy.

Yesterday, Time Magazine reported in an article, Gulf Oil Spill Swiftly Balloons, Could Move East, that:

The Coast Guard conceded Saturday that it's nearly impossible to know how much oil has gushed since the April 20 rig explosion, after saying earlier it was at least 1.6 million gallons....Even at that rate, the spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history within about a week. But a growing number of experts warned that the situation may already be much worse.

The oil slick over the water's surface appeared to triple in size over the past two days, which could indicate an increase in the rate that oil is spewing from the well, according to one analysis of images collected from satellites and reviewed by the University of Miami. While it's hard to judge the volume of oil by satellite because of depth, it does show an indication of change in growth, experts said.

"The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated," said Hans Graber, executive director of the university's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing. "Clearly, in the last couple of days, there was a big change in the size." Florida State University oceanography professor Ian R. MacDonald said his examination of Coast Guard charts and satellite images indicated that 8 million to 9 million gallons had already spilled by April 28.

Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production, said it was impossible to know just how much oil was gushing from the well, but said the company and federal officials were preparing for the worst-case scenario. Oil industry experts and officials are reluctant to describe what, exactly, a worst-case scenario would look like - but if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and carries it to the beaches of Florida, it stands to be an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.

The Deepwater Horizon well is at the end of one branch of the Gulf Stream, the famed warm-water current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic. Several experts said that if the oil enters the stream, it would flow around the southern tip of Florida and up the eastern seaboard.

"It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time," Graber said. "I don't think we can prevent that. It's more of a question of when rather than if."

Our firm will file our first BP Oil spill lawsuit tomorrow morning. We will do so with our long term co-counsel in the panhandle of Florida, Keefe, Anchors, Gordon & Moyle, P.A. Michelle Anchors is proudly a fervent environmentalist, and she wrote the following in her Blog:

Those of us who grew up on the Emerald Coast have been around the block a few times watching the Weather Channel and waiting to see where the hurricane would land. Most of us have never watched an oil slick to see whether and when it would land. Waiting for a hurricane seemed to be a lot more fun. Maybe we would get out of school. Maybe the electricity would go out. Maybe the wind would bring good waves for the surfers. And now that I represent clients who have to fight their insurance companies after a hurricane, maybe I would even get some business. But waiting for the oil spill of the Deepwater Horizon to reach our coast is gut wrenching. I don't want the business.

During the last few days, I have received calls from some of my clients asking if we can help them prepare for this potential disaster. Not to be unnecessarily alarmist, but the potential consequences are grave. Emotionally, environmentally, and economically, Northwest Florida has everything to lose. So we have mustered our troops and our resources and we are going to fight BP, who could have and should have taken more actions to prevent this devastating event. This is not like a hurricane that the forces of Mother Nature unleashes without any human or corporate control. This is an oil company that apparently did not take the precautions necessary to protect us all - this is an underwater Chernobyl.

With oil coming ashore, there will be massive income and loss of use claims. Those have already started and will only increase as the oil permeates a community. As a result, Merlin Law Group hired an environmental attorney who has extensive experience with pollution litigation. We also retained a consultant who managed claims from the oil industry's side following the Exxon Valdez disaster. We also hired Trial Exhibits, which photographed and documented damage for a oil transport company following a 1993 oil spill off St. Petersburg and Clearwater. We will do our best to help and serve our clients. I look forward to working with Michelle Anchors and others as we work through this unprecedented catastrophe.

© Copyright 2010 by Merlin Law Group. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. This blog originally appeared on the Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog. The Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog is one of the Insurance Law Center's Top 50 Insurance Blogs. The Top 50 Insurance Blogs may be found here.

Chip Merlin received an honorable mention in the Insurance Law Center's Person of the Year for 2008 awards in the policyholder attorney category. The Insurance Law Center Person of the Year Honorees for 2008 may be found here.