BP’s oil assault — will it ever stop?




When is it ever going to stop? I’m talking about BP’s oil pollution, which continues to bombard our beautiful beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, and continues to make our marine life ill. Don’t forget that it’s now been 50 long months since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew up off the coast of Louisiana, killed 11 people, and began the long process of spewing 5 million barrels of toxic crude into the Gulf.

How long ago was April 2010? The sports world was getting ready for soccer’s World Cup — not the one that fans are enjoying now in Brazil but the last one that was played in South Africa. Nancy Pelosi was still the Speaker of the House, and gays and lesbians were still barred from the U.S. military. Popular movies like “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” had not been released yet. In other words, in these fast-moving times it sure seems like a while ago.

And yet disgusting gobs of BP’s oil — poisonous, often contaminated with a kind of flesh-eating bacteria — continue to come ashore, day after day.  Marco Kaltofen, a chemical engineer with whom I’ve worked closely since the spill began in 2010, is reporting to me that at a beach near Pensacola, divers have removed some 1,309 pounds of tar mats and tar balls in just the last three days.

Here’s some news coverage about the project:

Four years after currents carried waves of black, sticky crude from the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil spill to our shoreline, the National Park Service is still trying to calculate damage to its Gulf Islands National Seashore.

In its latest effort, a specialized park service dive team has been scouring the national seashore’s waters since April from just east of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier and west to the entrance to Johnson Beach on Perdido Key hunting for suspected submerged tar mats.

Mats are believed to have settled into the floor of the Gulf and Pensacola Bay when large floating sheets of crude began arriving to our area on June 23, 2010, about a month after tar balls began floating onto our shorelines.

The hunt began in April and is part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment, meant to determine exactly how much oil is still in park waters, which extend 1 mile south into the Gulf all along Santa Rosa Island.

 As coverage in the local Pensacola newspaper notes, officials with the Park Service believe there is still a considerable amount of BP oil out there, which is why new tar balls and tar mats are discovered on numerous Gulf beaches every time a new storm hits the region. Here’s a separate report from the Florida coastline:

On Friday and Saturday, FDEP environmental specialist David Perkinson conducted a post-response monitoring survey on Escambia County, Florida beaches, with a focus in the Fort Pickens area.

Numerous Surface Residue Balls (SRBs or “tar balls”) were found throughout the area as well as a large submerged oil mat. These hardened balls are often filled with deadly, flesh-eating bacteria. Do not handle without protective gloves.

These findings indicate that oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill is still quite prevalent. A total of 1,000 pounds of Deepwater Horizon oil product removed from these sections of beach on Friday and Saturday. It appears that a significant amount of oil remains submerged at the site.

And what’s the long-term impact of all that oil? Well, we’re finding out more and more every day, and as you can imagine, the news is not good. Here is the latest:

Scientists at the University of Miami have found that juvenile mahi-mahi fish exposed as embryos to oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill swim more slowly than those that aren’t exposed, reporter Jenny Staletovich wrote in the Miami Herald Friday.

Researcher’s at the university’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science tested the mahi-mahi in a tiny fish treadmill device. The fish is a major commercial species in the Gulf of Mexico.

The researchers found that fish exposed to the oil swam only three body lengths per second, compared to an average five body lengths per second for unexposed fish, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. That’s likely bad news for exposed fish, which would have a greater chance of being caught and eaten by other fish.

Rosenstiel scientists also participated in a series of experiments on tuna exposed to BP oil that linked the oil to heart malformations.

BP’s environmental carnage has been heartbreaking for all of us. And the biggest frustration is that these stories do not go away. BP continues to spend untold millions of dollars to convince you that these things aren’t happening. But more than four years later, the bill for damages is still being tallied, and unfortunately there’s no end in sight. 

For more news about the National Park Service tar ball recovery effort in Pensacola, please read: http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2014/06/20/national-park-team-diving-bp-oil/11134001/

For additional information about oil washed ashore in Escambia County, Florida, check out: http://tampa.legalexaminer.com/toxic-substances/bp-the-real-state-of-the-gulf-pollution-report-for-friday-june-20-2014/

To find out more on the new research on how the BP oil spill affected mahi-mahi, please read: http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2014/06/study_finds_oil_from_bp_deepwa.html

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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