Category Archives: Gulf Oil Catastrophe

Off Florida, skimming boats fight oil spill

Florida Oil

By Lloyd Dunkelberger, The Herald Tribune.

At sea, the enemy is elusive.

Aided by a strong southwesterly wind and waves averaging 4 to 6 feet, the unprecedented threat to Florida’s economy and environment lurks in the dark Gulf waters uncomfortably close to the white sandy beaches of Pensacola Beach, Navarre and Grayton Beach.

Less than 4 miles from the opening of the Pensacola Pass, the vital inlet that connects the Gulf with the inland bays, bayous and coves surrounding Pensacola, Howie Hobbs spots something in the water. It is oil.

A thin sheen, obvious to an experienced charter boat captain like Hobbs but barely discernible to others, is riding the waves. More visible are widely dispersed, reddish, coin-size globules of oil.

“It’s heading straight to the beach,” said Hobbs, a Mississippi resident who once was the captain of a BP crew ship that ferried workers and supplies to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Pushed by the strong prevailing wind and currents, the globs of today will become the tar balls of tomorrow on the Panhandle beaches.

Starting Friday, the tar balls and patties began descending on some of Florida’s most pristine beaches.

Thus far, the impact has been minimal. On Friday, 520 tar balls were collected on Escambia County beaches — with the largest measuring a little more than 7 inches — and 12 tar mats were found floating 6 miles south of the Navarre Pier in adjoining Santa Rosa County, state environmental officials said.

The tar mats, trailing sheen, were about 30 feet by 15 feet.

The threat was met with the increased use of skimming ships off the coast and a cadre of cleanup workers along the beaches.

But the oil, which continues to spew at a rate of more than 12,000 barrels a day from the BP well, remains a growing menace right off Florida’s Panhandle shores.

On Saturday, state officials said scattered tar balls and patties were found between Pensacola Beach eastward to Grayton Beach in Walton County.

And more oil looms in the Gulf, with the state Department of Environmental Protection reporting a light sheen, 3 miles by 100 yards, a little more than a half-mile off Pensacola Beach on Saturday. State officials also noted the spill model from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration placed the “primary oil plume” only 2 miles from Pensacola.

Original Article

Thad Allen: Oil Spill Is ‘Holding The Gulf Hostage’

Excerpt, from CNN Blog, June 6th 2010.

The federal government’s response manager to the Gulf oil disaster, Thad Allen, says BP has made progress, but cautioned it was too early to call the effort a success.

“We’re making the right progress. I don’t think anyone should be pleased as long as there’s oil in the water,” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday.

Allen was responding to remarks over the weekend by BP’s senior vice president, Bob Fryar, who said the company was “pleased” with its operation to funnel crude up from the ruptured undersea well to a drilling ship a mile above on the Gulf of Mexico.

Fryar said the company funneled about 250,000 gallons of oil in the first 24 hours from a containment cap installed on the well to a drilling ship on the ocean surface.

But that’s only about 31 percent of the 798,000 gallons of crude federal authorities estimate is gushing into the sea every day.

Allen confirmed that BP has been able to bring oil to the surface after placing the cap, but said no one should be pleased until a relief well is completed and the leaking stops.

“This is an insidious enemy,” Allen said. “It’s attacking all of our shores, it’s holding the gulf hostage, basically.”

Even as the administration has tried to distance itself from oil company BP in recent days, with the Justice Department launching both criminal and civil investigations into the spill, it has not been enough to temper the frustration seething among residents along the coastline.

Original Article

Gulf oil spill: Cap starts doing its job, but officials remain cautious

Cap Oil

By Tina Susman, The Los Angeles Times.

Efforts to contain the flood of oil into the Gulf of Mexico showed the first signs of progress as 6,000 barrels of oil were pumped to the surface after the fitting of a containment cap over the blown well, officials said Saturday, but it was an incremental step that offered no guarantees of long-term success.

At a morning news briefing, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, commander of the national response to the disaster, said BP officials still had not closed the four vents of the containment cap, which would allow the well to begin pumping oil to the surface at far greater capacity.

In the meantime, thousands of gallons of oil are flowing into the sea as the massive slick hits shorelines and marshalnd in areas including Louisiana’s fishing towns and Florida’s white-sand beaches, where rust-colored globs are began washing ashore.

Allen said it was crucial to close the vents slowly to avoid putting too much pressure on the cap, which is being held in place with the help of a rubber gasket. “They’re easing the pressure up to the vessel … so they can maintain control of the oil,” said Allen.

As the vents are closed, officials must also ensure that water is not filtering in to mix with the oil and create hydrates, which led to the failure of an initial capping effort last month.

That requires the pumping downward of methanol, meaning officials must maintain a delicate balance at depths of 5,000 feet in conditions that could be disrupted in the event a major storm or hurricane forms. Hurricane season began Tuesday.
Allen said the full closure of the vents and the ramping up of oil production would depend on various conditions.

“They’re making sure they don’t increase the production rate until it is safe to do so,” said Allen. He also noted that the containment cap was only an interim, partial solution that was never guaranteed to fully plug the leak. A cap can only go so far – the only real solution is the completion of two relief wells currently being drilled. When they are finished, it will enable BP to plug the blown well and stop the spill, the worst in U.S. history.

One of the relief wells has been drilled to about 7,000 feet beneath the sea floor, less than half the distance it needs to go. The wells are not expected to be finished until early August.

Original Article

Cap collects some Gulf oil; crude washes into Fla.

By Greg Bluestein, Associated Press Writer.

Waves of gooey tar balls crashed into the white sands of the Florida Panhandle on Friday as BP engineers adjusted a sophisticated cap over the Gulf oil gusher, trying to collect the crude now fouling four states.

Even though the inverted funnel-like device was set over the leak late Thursday, crude continued to spew into the sea in the nation’s worst oil spill. Engineers hoped to close several open vents on the cap throughout the day in the latest attempt to contain the oil.

As they worked on the system underwater, the effect of the BP spill was widely seen. Swimmers at Pensacola Beach rushed out the water after wading into the mess. Brown pelicans coated in chocolate syrup-like oil flailed and struggled in the surf on a Louisiana island. The oil on the beaches of East Grand Terre near Grand Isle, La., were stained in hues of rust and crimson, much like the color of drying blood.

“In Revelations, it says the water will turn to blood. That’s what it looks like out here — like the Gulf is bleeding,” said P.J. Hahn, director of coastal zone management for Plaquemines Parish as he kneeled down to take a picture of an oil-coated feather. “This is going to choke the life out of everything.”

President Barack Obama was set to visit the Louisiana coast Friday, his second trip in a week and the third since the disaster unfolded following an April 20 oil rig explosion. Eleven workers were killed.

A mile below the water’s surface, the cap has different colored hoses loosely attached to it to help combat the near-freezing temperatures and icylike crystals that could clog it. The device started pumping oil and gas to a tanker on the surface overnight, but it wasn’t clear how much.

“Progress is being made, but we need to caution against over-optimism,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the disaster.

He said a very rough estimate of current collection would be about 42,000 gallons a day, though he stressed the information was anecdotal.

Robots a mile beneath the Gulf were shooting chemical dispersants at the escaping oil — though it looked more like flares when illuminated a mile underwater.

To put the cap in place, BP had to slice off the main pipe with giant shears after a diamond-edged saw became stuck. By doing so, they risked increasing the flow by as much as 20 percent, though Allen said it was still too soon to know whether that had happened.

“Once the containment cap is on and it’s working, we hope the rate is significantly reduced,” he said.

The jagged cut forced crews to use a looser fitting cap, but Allen did not rule out trying to again smooth out the cut with the diamond saw if officials aren’t satisfied with the current cap.

The best chance to plug the leak is a pair of relief wells, which are at least two months away. The well has spit out between 22 million and 47 million gallons of oil, according to government estimates.

In Florida, spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number before dawn on the beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and nearby areas, a county emergency official said. The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola.

David Lucas, of Jonesville, La., and a group of friends abruptly ended their visit to Pensacola Beach after wading into oily water.
“It was sticky brown globs out there,” Lucas said after the group cleaned their feet in the parking lot and headed south to Orlando.

Just to the west at Gulf Shores, Ala., Wendi Butler watched glistening clumps of oil roll onto the white sand beach during a morning stroll. An oily smell was in the air.

“You don’t smell the beach breeze at all,” said Butler, 40.

Butler moved to Perdido Bay from Mobile days before the spill. Now, her two kids don’t want to visit because of the oil and she can’t find a job.

“Restaurants are cutting back to their winter staffs because of it. They’re not hiring,” she said.

Meanwhile, BP PLC Chief Executive Tony Hayward sought to reassure investors, saying the company has “considerable firepower” to cope with the severe, long-running costs. Hayward and other senior BP executives struck a penitent note in their first comprehensive update to shareholders since the oil rig explosion, stressing their commitment to rebuilding BP’s tarnished reputation, improving safety measures and restoring the damaged Gulf coast.

“We will meet our obligations both as a responsible company and also as a necessary step to rebuilding trust in BP as a long term member of the business communities in the U.S. and around the world,” said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. “This is in the interest of all our stakeholders.”

In oil-soaked Grand Isle, BP representative Jason French might as well have painted a bulls-eye on his back. His mission was to be BP’s representative at a meeting for 50 or so residents who had gathered at a church to vent.

“We are all angry and frustrated,” he said. “Feel free tonight to let me see that anger. Direct it at me, direct it at BP, but I want to assure you, the folks in this community, that we are working hard to remedy the situation.”

Residents weren’t buying it.

“Sorry doesn’t pay the bills,” said Susan Felio Price, who lives near Grand Isle.

“Through the negligence of BP we now find ourselves trying to roller-skate up a mountain,” she said. “We’re growing really weary. We’re tired. We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Someone’s got to help us get to the top of that mountain.”
Obama shared some of that anger ahead of his Gulf visit. He told CNN’s Larry King that he was frustrated and used his strongest language in assailing BP.

“I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions,” Obama said. “This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years.”

Newly disclosed internal Coast Guard documents from the day after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig indicated that U.S. officials were warning of a leak of 336,000 gallons per day of crude from the well in the event of a complete blowout.
The volume turned out to be much closer to that figure than the 42,000 gallons per day that BP first estimated. Weeks later it was revised to 210,000 gallons. Now, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude is believed to be leaking daily.

The Center for Public Integrity, which initially reported the Coast Guard logs, said it obtained them from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The logs also showed early in the disaster that remote underwater robots were unable to activate the rig’s blowout preventer, which was supposed to shut off the flow from the well in the event of such a catastrophic failure.

Original Article

How the Gulf Oil Spill Hurt Animals

By Doug Inkley, David Mizejewski and Hannah Schardt, National Wildlife Federation.

Twenty-one years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the wildlife of Alaska’s Prince William Sound is still struggling to recover. With a sunken BP oil rig gushing thousands of barrels of oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico, the battered Gulf Coast region, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, is bracing for its own catastrophe.

Here are just a few of the ways Gulf wildlife could feel the effects of the spill for months, even years to come…

Sea Turtles
Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles are found in the Gulf of Mexico, and all of these five are listed as either endangered or threatened, including the loggerhead turtle.

These reptiles are threatened by oil at every stage of their lives: as eggs, hatchlings, juveniles and adults.

Studies have found that sea turtle eggs contaminated by oil, even a small amount, may either fail to hatch or produce weakened, deformed hatchlings. Those hatchlings that make it successfully from their sandy nests to the sea face several threats: Since they are tiny, they risk being impaired or overwhelmed by an oil slick. Young turtles spend much of their time swimming at the surface, making them more likely than adults to run into a slick on top of the water and leaving them prone to being poisoned or coated by the sticky oil.

Even adults, sea turtles can live longer than 50 years in the wild, are at risk. Studies have found that sea turtles, which are air-breathing animals and must surface regularly, show no natural avoidance behaviors when confronted with an oil slick. They will even attempt to feed upon tarballs, the dark chunks that form as crude oil weatherizes, or ages. Because oil can kill huge swaths of seagrass, one of the green sea turtle’s primary food sources, adult sea turtles may also suffer from malnutrition.

Birds
Birds that come into contact with oil can be impacted in many ways, often resulting in their death.

Species that frequent coastal waters are especially at risk from the BP Oil Spill. These include seabirds, brown pelicans (removed from the endangered species list in 2009 after a long recovery from the effects of DDT), terns (royal, Caspian, Sandwich and least), and laughing gulls, and wading birds, the roseate spoonbill (pictured), ibis, reddish egret and other herons and egrets, as well as the piping plover, a federally listed threatened species that winters along the coast of the Gulf. (Piping plovers are not currently in the Gulf but could suffer if they return to find their winter habitat damaged by the spill.)

Gulls, pelicans and other birds that frequently land and float on the water can experience deadly hypothermia when oil destroys the insulating quality of their feathers. The birds try to eat more to stay warm, but their ability to forage decreases as they sink lower and lower into the water, their buoyancy decreased by the oil. The birds desperately groom their feathers with their bills, inevitably consuming some oil, which may lead to very serious effects: ulcers, diarrhea, kidney and liver damage, anemia and even death. Breathing in oil can lead to pneumonia, neurological damage and eventually cancer.

Less obvious long-term impacts are likely to occur as well: The entire food chain, from phytoplankton and zooplankton to top level predators such as fish-eating birds, may be disrupted by the presence of oil. Toxic chemicals may accumulate in the birds’ bodies, weakening them and making them more prone to disease and predation. If oiled birds don’t die from the exposure, there is evidence that their reproductive success is lowered by exposure to even small quantities of residual oil.

Fish and Shellfish
The seafood industry has long been at the heart of coastal Louisiana’s economy. Shrimp, oysters and other seafood pump $2.4 billion a year into the Gulf coast economy. Fish and shellfish are a key link in the region’s food chain, with many seabirds and other wildlife relying on them for sustenance.

Following an oil spill, fish eggs and larvae are at particular risk because they are immobile and can’t escape the spreading oil slick.

Making matters worse in the current situation, the BP oil spill comes during spawning season, threatening the survival of the next generation of the Gulf’s fish and shellfish. The estuaries and mangroves where adult crustaceans breed are likely to suffer major damage from the spill, which could have a devastating effect on the region’s fishing industry.

The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, even before the BP oil spill, was already taxed by decades of human impacts and by Hurricane Katrina. Because both shrimp and oysters readily consume environmental toxins, both are likely to pass on the contaminants from the spill to their predators, from fish to whales to humans.

Already, federal authorities have temporarily banned commercial and recreational fishing in the waters most affected by the spill, citing health concerns.

Marine Mammals
The effects of oil on marine mammals can be difficult to assess. Sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins (pictured) and other mammals in the gulf live most of their lives out at sea. For this reason, they are likely to be among the first Gulf inhabitants to encounter the spill. Unlike fish, marine mammals are air-breathers and must surface frequently, bringing them into contact with the slick that now covers thousands of square miles of the Gulf.

Marine mammals can suffer a variety of ill effects from exposure to oil: chemical burns and irritation from direct contact, ulcers and internal bleeding from consumption, and poisoning from feeding on contaminated prey. In other oil spills, marine mammals have suffered major losses to their populations. Two orca pods affected by the Exxon Valdez lost 40% of their numbers and still have not fully recovered; the pods’ reproductive success appears to have suffered long-term damage.

Original Article

Animals suffer after Oil Spill, AP

Under Pressure to Block Oil, A Rush To Dubious Projects

Oil Hand

By Rob Young, in Yale Environment 360.

Oil continues to gush from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, with the U.S. Geological Survey estimating that as many as 28 million gallons of oil have been released into the Gulf, compared to 11 million gallons from the Exxon Valdez spill. BP may not be able to stop the flow until August when the drilling of a relief well is completed. Oil is already hitting the beaches and wetlands of Louisiana and is rapidly approaching Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. The environmental and economic impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cannot be overstated: This may become one of the greatest ecological catastrophes in history.

Given the enormity of this environmental disaster, it is understandable that there is tremendous political and societal pressure to stop the flow and clean up the mess. However, in their rush to react to growing public pressure and do something, federal and state officials are waiving scientific review of emergency measures and embracing dubious solutions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the proposal to begin building a long sand berm to prevent oil from reaching wetlands and beaches in Louisiana. The White House has announced that this project is now moving forward, despite serious concerns among coastal scientists, including myself, that it will not be effective in keeping oil from the coast, could do more environmental harm than good, and would be extremely expensive.

Under pressure from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state and local officials, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an emergency permit on May 27 authorizing the state of Louisiana to construct 45 miles of artificial berm, 300 feet wide at its base and rising six feet out of the gulf, in an attempt to protect delta wetlands and barrier islands from the encroaching oil. The state had initially requested permission to build close to 128 miles of barrier, and the Corps of Engineers permit indicates the additional sections may be allowed as the permitted sections are evaluated. Jindal’s argument for building the sand berm, just off existing barrier islands, is simple: It’s better to clean oil off of man-made sand berms than in Louisiana’s wetlands, which teem with fish and wildlife.

While mitigating the environmental damage of this spill is critical, it must be done in a way that wisely utilizes the resources at hand, effectively deals with the problem (e.g., keeping oil out of wetlands), and doesn’t do more harm than good. But the emergency projects currently being proposed by various entities and permitted by the Corps of Engineers, including a plan to build a seawall in front of Dauphin Island, Alabama, have not had sufficient review and design to guarantee that any of the above goals will be met. Indeed, since the Louisiana berm will not be continuous, there is a strong likelihood that oil will flow in through the gaps, then possibly become trapped in wetlands.

In addition to its questionable prospects for success, the Louisiana berm project would be extremely expensive. The application from the state of Louisiana estimated the cost to be about $3.8 million per mile, or about $171 million for the initial 45 miles of the permitted project. In its comments on the state’s application, the U.S. Department of Interior notes that cost estimates for mobilizing sand in the area have already been produced for the planning of future barrier island restoration. Using these numbers, the Interior Department suggests the costs are likely to be closer to $500 million. Thad Allen, the U.S. Coast Guard admiral in charge of the spill cleanup, said Wednesday that BP has agreed to pay for construction of the 45-mile line of sand berms, which he estimated would cost $360 million.

A project that could cost as much as a half-billion dollars should warrant serious review. Yet it has been very difficult to find a public record or details of the proposed project design and how it was vetted. Obviously, there was never any intention to solicit public comment. This may be appropriate in an emergency, but it begs the question: Who designed the project? Have they used the best available science? And will it work as advertised?

The state of Louisiana has a wealth of fine coastal scientists who have been working on the coastal restoration of the Louisiana delta region for decades. Yet those who I have spoken with have indicated that they havenot been consulted on the project. I have yet to speak to a scientist who thinks the project will be effective. The Corps of Engineers gave agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), less than a day to submit comments on the proposal after it was presented to the agencies during a teleconference on May 17. Certainly, the agencies had very little time to scientifically evaluate the potential environmental impacts of such a massive project, but in their brief submissions the agencies expressed major concerns.

The Department of Interior indicated that “we do not think the risks inherent in proceeding without more environmental study and knowledge are acceptable.”

The EPA directly questioned the proposed berm’s effectiveness, suggesting there is no evidence that the project will stop oil from entering the marshes and estuaries because it is constructed only in front of the barrier islands and will not block the inlets and deepwater passes. In addition, EPA questioned whether a project that will take at least 6 to 9 months to build would be completed in time to have any impact on the spill.

As a coastal geologist who studies coastal storm impacts, it is clear to me that this berm, located just offshore of the barrier islands, will also be extremely susceptible to erosion. Indeed, it will begin to erode immediately upon completion. Even a simple understanding of coastal processes leads one to conclude that this sandy berm could disappear within a few months. Coincidently, the U.S. government’s Climate Prediction Center released its forecast for this year’s Atlantic Basin hurricane season on the same day the berm permit was issued. Federal scientists are predicting an incredibly busy season with up to 23 named storms and 8 to 14 hurricanes. Just one of these storms tracking near the proposed berm will wipe it out. At six feet above sea level, the berm will not have the elevation or sand volume to provide significant storm protection. In fact, depending on the track of the storm, it could potentially make the storm surge higher in some areas. The berm also could prevent the flushing of some oil out of the wetlands.

In the end, we have a project that is incredibly expensive. There has been little scientific review. It is questionable if the proposed berm will prevent oil from entering the wetlands it is designed to protect. The structure will be very short-lived. And there are many potential negative impacts of this structure on the coastal environment that have not been evaluated. Coastal dredging and filling can cause significant damage to marine organisms and local ecosystems as massive amounts of sand are dug up in one location and then deposited on the sea floor in another spot. In addition, building a 45-mile sand berm could alter tidal currents and lead to the erosion of natural barrier islands that protect the Louisiana coast from hurricanes.

Yes, we need to do something, but we need a better process for deciding what that best something is. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that this permitted berm is not a viable solution.

And the Louisiana berm is not the only example of rushed emergency permitting of a major project. With the oil steadily approaching the Alabama coastline, the Mobile, Ala. district of the Corps of Engineers released an Emergency Public Notice, also on May 27, for a permit application by BP to build a mile-and-a-half-long seawall on Dauphin Island, Alabama to block the oil from reaching the island. The goal of the project is to close off a breach in the barrier island opened by Hurricane Katrina. Now this may be a good idea, but the process gives us no insight into whether it is or isn’t. Again, agencies were given a few hours to comment. The design for the structure was presented hand-drawn on notebook paper and appears to have been pulled together by a local pile-driving company. The plans are not signed or stamped by a licensed engineer. Will it work? Who knows?

Photo Source: AP Photo; Gerald Herbert.

Original Article

Once again, BP experiment in Gulf spill hits snag

By Melissa Nelson and Adam Geller, Associated Press Writers.

BP fumbled its latest underwater experiment with the wild Gulf gusher, just like every other endeavor the company has tried to fix the nation’s worst oil spill and BP’s chief executive said the company wasn’t fully prepared for the disaster.

First, a 100-ton, four-story box couldn’t contain the spill because icelike crystals clogged the top. Then, a straw-like device that actually did capture crude was inconsistent at best. The supposed top kill, shooting heavy mud and junk into the well, couldn’t overcome the pressure of the oil. And the most recent risky gambit ran into trouble a mile under the sea Wednesday when a diamond-tipped saw became stuck after slicing through about half of the blown-out well.

It took BP 12 hours to free the saw, and the company hopes to use giant shears similar to an oversized garden tool to snip off the pipe. However, the cut won’t be as clean if successful, and a looser fitting cap will have to be placed over the spill.
No timetable was given for when that might start, a familiar refrain in this six-week-old disaster.

The Financial Times on Thursday quoted BP CEO Tony Hayward as saying it was “entirely fair” to criticize the company’s preparations.

The newspaper quotes Hayward as saying: “What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit.”

However, Hayward said BP had been successful so far in keeping most of the oil away from the southeastern U.S. coast.
“Considering how big this has been, very little has got away from us,” Hayward was quoted as saying.

So far, each novel attempt to stop more oil from spewing into the Gulf has dragged on and misfired. All along, the company has been drilling a relief well, the best option at stopping the gusher, but it’s still two months away.

Since the biggest oil spill in U.S. history began to unfold April 20 with an explosion that killed 11 workers aboard an offshore drilling rig, crude has fouled some 125 miles of Louisiana coastline and washed up in Alabama and Mississippi. The well has leaked anywhere from 21 million to 45 million gallons by the government’s estimate.

The latest attempt to stop it, the so-called cut-and-cap method, is considered risky because slicing away a section of the 20-inch-wide riser could remove kinks in the pipe and temporarily increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent.
And the situation on the water’s surface becomes more dire with each day.

Oil drifted perilously close to the Florida Panhandle’s famous sugar-white beaches, and crews on the mainland were doing everything possible to limit the catastrophe. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the nation’s point man for the spill, directed BP to pay for five additional sand barrier projects in Louisiana. Boats were also sent packing east, along with four helicopters to help skimmers spot oil threatening Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida coast.

As the edge of the slick drifted within seven miles of Pensacola’s beaches, emergency workers rushed to link the last in a miles-long chain of booms designed to fend off the oil. They were slowed by thunderstorms and wind before the weather cleared in the afternoon.

Forecasters said the oil would probably wash up by Friday, threatening a delicate network of islands, bays and white-sand beaches that are a haven for wildlife and a major tourist destination dubbed the Redneck Riviera.

“We are doing what we can do, but we cannot change what has happened,” said John Dosh, emergency director for Escambia County, which includes Pensacola.

The effect on wildlife has grown, too.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 522 dead birds, at least 38 of them oiled, along the Gulf coast states, and more than 80 oiled birds have been rescued. It’s not clear exactly how many of the deaths can be attributed to the spill.
Dead birds and animals found during spills are kept as evidence in locked freezers until investigations and damage assessments are complete, according to Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“This includes strict chain-of-custody procedures and long-term locked storage until the investigative and damage assessment phases of the spill are complete,” she wrote in an e-mail.

As the oil drifted closer to Florida, beachgoers in Pensacola waded into the gentle waves, cast fishing lines and sunbathed, even as a two-man crew took water samples. One of the men said they were hired by BP to collect samples to be analyzed for tar and other pollutants.

A few feet away, Martha Feinstein, 65, of Milton, Fla., pondered the fate of the beach she has been visiting for years. “You sit on the edge of your seat and you wonder where it’s going,” she said. “It’s the saddest thing.”

Officials said the slick sighted offshore consisted in part of “tar mats” about 500 feet by 2,000 feet in size.

County officials set up the booms to block oil from reaching inland waterways but planned to leave beaches unprotected because they are too difficult to defend against the action of the waves and because they are easier to clean up.
“It’s inevitable that we will see it on the beaches,” said Keith Wilkins, deputy chief of neighborhood and community services for Escambia County.

Florida’s beaches play a crucial role in the state’s tourism industry. At least 60 percent of vacation spending in the state during 2008 was in beachfront cities. Worried that reports of oil would scare tourists away, state officials are promoting interactive Web maps and Twitter feeds to show travelers, particularly those from overseas, how large the state is and how distant their destinations may be from the spill.

Original Article

PSDS scientists monitor oil spill progress

By Rob Young, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

Gulf Oil Spill Update: May 25, 2010

Scientists from the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines continue to monitor the progress of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our team conducted another aerial survey of the coast zone in Louisiana on May 18, 2010. This flight captured the Chandeleur Islands. We have another flight planned for later this week to capture the areas from the birdsfoot and west along with a ground survey of Grand Isle, LA where oil is coming ashore on the beach. There are increasing reports of oil reaching the beaches and wetlands of Louisiana. Much less is known of the cumulative impact the spill is having on the deeper marine environment offshore of Louisiana. And even less is known about the long-term impacts of the dispersant being used to break up the oil in hopes of keeping it offshore.

We are dismayed about the general lack of information regarding all aspects of this disaster. The FAA had placed flight restrictions on the Louisiana coast and offshore areas. We were eventually allowed to fly thanks to the help of one of our long-time partners. We were told the restrictions were due to the numerous low-level flights in the area; however, we only saw one other plane during our coastal flight. If one is a conspiracy theorist, one has to appreciate how convenient it is to keep the public from visualizing the problem. See these reports from Mother Jones: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/05/crude-oil-reaches-beaches-louisiana-gulf-bp-spill-transocean.

BP and the government continue to underestimate the amount of oil flowing from the ruptured well. The speed at which new ideas for shutting off the flow are generated seems painfully slow. It is difficult for the general public to gage or grasp the extent of this disaster. Many people have already tuned out, and media coverage in many areas has slowed. I think this is probably because we don’t have hundreds of images of dead birds and marine mammals to capture the public imagination. Much of the damage done by this spill may be long-term, and harder to visualize.

Now, the Louisiana Governor’s office is proposing to build a 93 mile-long sand berm that would bury much of the barrier island coast of the eastern delta. There is little evidence that this structure could be built in time to do much good, and there has been no environmental evaluation of the potential harm. One small storm could wash away significant portions of the structure, and the berm could even worsen the storm surge impact for a storm approaching from the “wrong” direction. This kind of rushed coastal engineering may be well intentioned, but could actually make things worse. So far, the Army Corps has not rushed to issue permits for the project, but the LA governor’s office is piling on the pressure.

Keep checking in for further updates.

US seeks foreign help for oil spill equipment

AFP, June 1st 2010.

The US government lacks key equipment it needs to battle the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and is seeking international help, the US Coast Guard said on Tuesday.

Coast Guard official Thad Allen, who is in charge of the government’s efforts, told reporters that skimmers to help siphon the oil off the surface of the water are most needed now.

“We are looking at offers of foreign assistance, we are actually reaching out to foreign governments,” Allen said.

“Some of the equipment that is most valuable to us right now is skimming equipment. There are different types of skimmers. Some of the inventories are present in other countries,” he said.

“We’re actually reaching out to folks like the Netherlands, Canada and Mexico as sources of supply for that.”

Allen added that Canada has already provided “aviation assets” to help with the nation’s worst ever oil spill, which began April 20 with the explosion of a BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig.

Resources to help skim or burn oil off the surface of the water are important because hurricane season has begun amid projections that efforts to contain the gushing oil could take another two months, he said.

“And so we’re looking at every source of supply for a skimming type of equipment and that’s the type of equipment that we’ll be bringing in.”

President Barack Obama last week admitted to a shortage of protective boom to shield Gulf coastlines from the massive oil slick and said the government was working out how to make more.

Long lines of booms have been deployed in the Gulf of Mexico during the clean-up effort in a bid to keep oil slicks from reaching land, but it has not been a fail-safe plan, as bad weather for example can push oil over the top of the barriers.

Original Article