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Posted: Thursday, 25 July 2013 6:25AM

Well blowout poses more public relations problems than public safety

A burning gas rig in the Gulf of Mexico is causing new concerns for Louisiana's seafood industry.

But, the problem is more likely to be one of perception than reality.

Officials have stressed that the current situation won't be nearly as damaging as the 2010 BP oil spill. And, Ewell Smith, of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, agrees.

"The natural gas should not be an issue affecting our waters or the seafood, but the imagery and the perception is a concern for us."

Smith is worried about how this story will be portrayed across the country.

"What we're concerned about is the national media referencing back to the old images, pairing them up with these images, and conjuring up memories from three years ago."

And, he says, his concerns come just as the industry is getting past any safety concerns about Louisiana seafood.

"Any negative images like that could set us back," says Smith. "And we need to continue looking forward."

He sees a major public relations issue arising, if the rig goes down.

"If it collapses, the national media will probably be all over it," Smith says. "And then, we're going to be facing the situation where it's going to remind everybody what happened three years ago."

Smith says local media understand that a gas well problem is nothing like the oil spill situation the Gulf faced in 2010.

"If it stays a local media event, that's fine. But, if it goes national, we have to address that and calm people's concerns immediately, because those memories will come back."

Several scientists contacted about Tuesday's gas well blowout said natural gas generally poses much less of an environmental risk to the Gulf than crude oil.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says it saw no sheens near the well during flyovers Wednesday morning.

The lack of sheen indicates the gas is burning off without releasing oil or other hydrocarbons, which are sometimes found in gas wells, into the water.

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