Bowermaster’s Adventures: Checking in on the BP spill cleanup

bp spill cleanupReports last week from the beaches of Alabama and Mississippi suggest that the post-BP gusher cleanup continues, with varying degrees of success, and that new oil continues to show up.

Near the Alabama-Florida border, a placed called Perdido (Lost) Key, BP-contracted crews have been sifting sand for more than six months to try and get rid of tar mats buried nearly three feet beneath the sand.

Having suffered 50 percent losses in tourist’s dollars last summer, the effort is being made to insure the areas renowned white sand beaches are pure white by the first of the New Year. The idea is to next move the process west along the coastal islands of Mississippi and the marshlands of Louisiana, using slightly different systems.

But locals in Perdido Key tell the Times that while a BP spokesman says he expects to eventually get “99 percent of what’s out there,” all the sifting and shifting of sand is not getting rid of the oil, just spreading it around.

Near Harrison, Mississippi, crews have been cleaning oil and tar balls off the beach for 200 days and the work continues, with expectations that it will last through next summer. A BP spokesman there says each crew is picking up 20 to 30 pounds of tar balls a day, by hand, since machinery has proved inefficient against the “small, oily clumps.” Along with the visible tar balls scattered along the shore, there is also concern about possible sub-surface oil buried beneath a layer of sand.Just offshore Harrison, the low-lying sand barrier called Horn Island took the brunt of the oil spill; heavy machinery is still being used there to try and clean it up.

Suggestions that the oil from the spill and its long-lasting impact is mostly gone seem to be exaggerated. About 135 shrimp and fishing boats are still at sea aiding in the cleanup; another 1,200 boats are waiting to be scrubbed clean and decontaminated at more than 20 dry docks across the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 9,000 square miles of federal Gulf waters remain closed to fishing; bad weather has kept crews from getting enough species to sample and decide whether to reopen some of that area. It’s estimated that the daily cost of the cleanup has dropped to $27 million, from a high of about $67 million … a day.

Different cleanup concerns are being voiced about the Chandeleur Islands at the mouth of the Mississippi River off Louisiana. That’s where Governor Bobby Jindal and his troops attempted a quick fix at the height of the spill, bulldozing thousands of tons of sand in an effort to build-up berms to try and prevent the oil from reaching the marshes and shores.

Unfortunately, according to my friend Ivor van Heerden, a coastal restoration expert who’s been monitoring the impact of the spill since the very first day, that berm-building process buried oil as deep as seven feet. Since it was halted no effort has been made to retrieve that buried oil. He predicts normal winter erosion will unearth it and send it on to the shoreline.

He is concerned that local politicians may be purposely dragging their heels on proper clean up as a way to keep attention – and federal dollars – focused on the state.

“A few weeks back I had the opportunity to speak to some researchers at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and in their opinion Louisiana has become a ‘victim’ state. It cannot manage its resources well enough to generate sufficient income; instead it looks to get ‘payout’s’ from time to time. They also pointed out that this is a very slippery slope for a state.”

Flickr image via GT51