Residue from the Gulf oil spill has washed up on Petit Bois Island, Gov. Haley Barbour announced in a press conference this afternoon. A two-mile long strand, approximately one meter wide reached the six-mile long island south of Pascagoula this morning, Barbour said. Crews have already begun cleaning up the oil, using shovels, and should finish in a day.
The oil, which Barbour described as a "glop" and as a thick, caramel-colored substance with the consistency of a "mousse," likely broke off from a larger patch south of Horn Island on Sunday, the governor said. The Coast Guard and other federal and state monitors should have noticed the oil sooner, Barbour conceded, but the oil had sunk below the water's surface and was less visible.
Barbour has activated 50 National Guardsmen and has permission to deploy an additional 6,000. He said he did not anticipate needing their help unless the state suffers a "major intrusion" of oil, in which case Guardsmen might be necessary to enforce beach closures and assist with clean-up.
Aside from the rogue strand that reached Petit Bois, the closest patch of oil is 35 south of the barrier islands. Barbour said he is asking state agencies to increase their water and air-quality monitoring in case the oil drifts further north. In the event that more oil nears the islands, state crews will deploy oil-absorbing booms, as well as skimmers and other technology to divert the oil's course, with the aim of preventing any oil from passing into the Mississippi Sound.
Barbour blamed media coverage for discouraging tourism along the Coast.
"The news media has just acted like this is Armageddon," Barbour said. "It could turn out to be something catastrophic and terrible. But for us and Alabama, Florida and Texas, that has simply not been the case thus far. We're prepared to fight off big oil spills, but we haven't had to."