Sunday, May 23, 2010

Getting oil out of wetlands may be impossible

Getting oil out of wetlands may be impossible

By Matthew Brown The Associated Press

Published: Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.
All photos by John L. Wathen
Flight provided by SouthWings

NEW ORLEANS | The gooey oil washing into the maze of marshes along the Gulf Coast could prove impossible to remove, leaving a toxic stew lethal to fish and wildlife, government officials and independent scientists said.

Officials are considering some drastic and risky solutions: They could set the wetlands on fire or flood areas in hopes of floating out the oil.
But they warn an aggressive cleanup could ruin the marshes and do more harm than good. The only viable option for many impacted areas is to do nothing and let nature break down the spill.
More than 50 miles of Louisiana’s delicate shoreline already have been soiled by the massive slick unleashed after BP’s Deepwater Horizon burned and sank last month. Officials fear oil eventually could invade wetlands and beaches from Texas to Florida. Louisiana is expected to be hit hardest.
Plaquemines Parish officials on Louisiana’s coast discovered a major pelican rookery awash in oil on Saturday. Hundreds of birds nest on the island, and an Associated Press photographer saw that at least some birds and their eggs were stained with the ooze. Nests were perched in mangroves directly above patches of crude.
“Oil in the marshes is the worst-case scenario,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the head of the federal effort to contain and clean up the spill.

Also on Saturday, BP told federal regulators it plans to stick with the main chemical dispersant it’s been spraying in the open Gulf to break up oil before it reaches the surface. The Environmental Protection Agency had directed the company to look for less toxic alternatives. But BP said in a letter to the EPA that Corexit 9500, one of the chief agents used, “remains the best option for subsea application.”
Oil that has rolled into shoreline wetlands coats the stalks and leaves of plants such as roseau cane — the fabric that holds together an ecosystem that is essential to the region’s fishing industry and a much-needed buffer against Gulf hurricanes. Soon, oil will smother those plants and choke off their supply of air and nutrients.
In some eddies and protected inlets, the ochre-colored crude has pooled beneath the water’s surface, forming clumps several inches deep.

With the seafloor leak still gushing hundreds of thousands of gallons a day, the damage is only getting worse. Millions of gallons already have leaked so far.
Coast Guard officials said Saturday the spill’s impact stretches across a 150-mile swath, from Dauphin Island, Ala. to Grand Isle, La.
Over time, experts say weather and natural microbes will break down most of the oil. However, the crude will poison plants and wildlife in the months — even years — it will take for the syrupy muck to dissipate.
Back in 1989, crews fighting the Exxon Valdez tanker spill — which unleashed almost 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound — used pressure hoses and rakes to clean the shores. The Gulf Coast is too fragile for that: those tactics could blast apart the peat-like soils that hold the marshes together.
Hundreds of miles of bayous and man-made canals crisscross the coast’s exterior, offering numerous entry points for the crude. Access is difficult and time-intensive, even in the best of circumstances.

“Just the compaction of humanity bringing equipment in, walking on them, will kill them,” said David White, a wetlands ecologist from Loyola University in New Orleans.
Marshes offer a vital line of defense against Gulf storms, blunting their fury before they hit populated areas. Louisiana and the federal government have spent hundreds of millions rebuilding barriers that were wiped out by hurricanes, notably Katrina in 2005.
They also act as nursery grounds for shrimp, crabs, oysters — the backbone of the region’s fishing industry. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds nest in the wetlands’ inner reaches, a complex network of bayous, bays and man-made canals.
To keep oil from pushing deep into Louisiana’s marshes, Gov. Bobby Jindal and officials from several coastal parishes want permission to erect a $350 million network of sand berms linking the state’s barrier islands and headlands.
That plan is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If large volumes of oil make it through passes, the cleanup will become far more difficult as oil spreads into the bayous and canals.
Smaller spills have been occurring in the marshes for decades. In the past, cleanup crews would sometimes slice out oiled vegetation and take it to a landfill, said Andy Nyman with Louisiana State University.
But with the plants gone, water from the gulf would roll in and wash away the roots, turning wetlands to open water.
Adm. Allen said that where conditions are right, an “in-situ burn” could be used to set oil-coated plants ablaze.
Nyman and other experts, though, warn it’s trickier than simply lighting a fire. If the marsh is too wet, the oil won’t burn. Too dry, the roots burn and the marsh can be ruined.

Representatives from BP PLC — which leased the sunken rig and is responsible for the cleanup — said Saturday that cleanup crews have started more direct cleanup methods along Pass a Loutre in Plaquemines Parish. Shallow water skimmers were attempting to remove the oil from the top of the marsh.
Streams of water could later be used in a bid to wash oil from between cane stalks.
In other cases, the company will rely on “bioremediation” — letting oil-eating microbes do the work.
“Nature has a way of helping the situation,” said BP spokesman John Curry.
But White, the Loyola scientist, predicted at least short-term ruin for some of the wetlands he’s been studying for three decades. Under a worst-case scenario, he said the damage could exceed the 217 square miles of wetlands lost during the 2005 hurricane season.
“When I say that, my stomach turns,” he said.



  1. I spend winters on the Gulf and I still will. We who call this piece of earth home will do what we can, however puny our efforts. In the meantime, find a group that is doing good work and donate if you can. One good place is Mote Marine Labs on FL's west coast. They are doing pro-active work right now.

  2. Thank God the "experts" are on the case!

  3. I'm afraid as an environmentalist, I have to say "I told you so." It was obvious that with thousands of wells drilled in the Gulf, this accident was only a matter of time. Nuclear power is a similar disaster that will happen unless we shut down our nukes.

    The Gulf coast is lost. However, we might still be able to save the East and West Coasts. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont has introduced a bill that would ban offshore oil drilling permanently. We must push for this ban. I would suggest huge protest marches throughout the Gulf. The message? "No More Offshore Oil!"

    On the other hand, the McCain/Kerry Energy Bill that is now before Congress actually spends billions of our tax dollars to fund new offshore drilling, new nuclear power plants, and new coal mines. It was written by the big energy companies for the big energy companies. Both Kerry and McCain should be ashamed for introducing this bill in the middle of this disaster. It's the clearest indication yet that corporations are running Congress. This bill must be stopped.

  4. Fire the purifier can save the Gulf shallows WE Pray!
    By Dwight Baker
    May 27, 2010

    Eagles Eye View Aiming at Issues for We the People Advocates

    Building of dykes to protect against more oil from going ashore into ‘the marshes the breeding bed of the Gulf’ needs to get underway and that means today.

    Forget about sponging up the oil that is there now, using all efforts to get the dykes made NOW. Our people living around the Gulf are overworked frustrated to the bitter ends of human understanding and we the few must come to the needs of the people with ideas of how to bring about changes that will work.

    After the dykes are made and tested to make sure no more oil can come ashore in those places. Bring in Air force bombers loaded with napalm bombs to set the marshes ablaze. And keep repeating until all is fully ablaze. Fire will purge out all the oil and gases and also give the plant life a new breath of fresh air to again grow back to once again be the breeding bed of the Gulf.

  5. you really need to stop trying to ban the drilling in the gulf they should be able to drill just not at a water depth that we can't get to easy enough thats just my opinion

  6. i wonder what would happen if we pulled the pipe right out of the ground would the mud at the bottom of the ocean floor seal the hole i mean a mile of mud should seal a 10000 foot hole

  7. @jtb1986- They need to actually find the source of the leak before that happens. These oil company execs are idiots, they'd never have thought to thoroughly prepare for this, the unthinkable (though highly possible) to happen. No, they're too busy buying $12,000.00 shower curtains and turning up their noses at the rest of us, robbing us daily in a war against our empty fuel tanks and grumbling stomachs, our peace of mind and ultimately our lives. I say that we drag these louts by their necks through the streets for their dark crimes against nature, our most precious (and really our only) resource.


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