Far From Over: Local Accounts Confirm that the “Oil Is Absolutely Still There” and Continues to Pose a Serious Threat


Seafood safety may be the most important issue now challenging the “Mission Accomplished” narrative, but the Times-Picayune has a great story reminding us that there’s still plenty of oil impacting hundreds of miles of beaches and coastline. And those “tar mats” that the all-clear crowd shrugs off are lurking just beneath the low-tide line.

Reporter Mark Schleifstein relies on the “Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams” – a.k.a. “SCAT” – for beach cleanup stats. That group works, he notes, “for BP and the federal government,” so we should always consider the source. But, as usual, once you move away from the official BP-government talking points and listen to officials down at the local level, you get a much more credible and accurate account.

“The reality is we still have hundreds of miles of oiled shoreline today,” says Garret Graves, chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “We still have oilings on a regular basis in areas of Jefferson and PlaqueminesParish, and there’s still a lot of oil buried back in the marshes where it was carried during high water events.”

The SCAT numbers are breathtaking: there are 3,086 miles of targeted coastline in Louisiana, which makes up the SCAT western district…and 1,598 miles of mostly beaches targeted for clean-up in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which comprise the eastern district.

The race is on to get the beaches clean for spring break. One SCAT official tells Schleifstein that “There’s a lot of pressure to get it done because of the loss of the last tourist season, and they want to get open for the winter months and they want to get open for spring breakers.”

And the Times-Picayune story adds that people are worried about all the oil that’s conspicuously unaccounted for in those federal descriptions of how much oil remains in the Gulf. A SCAT official admits that the tar mats “…can be three or four or five yards wide and a couple hundred meters long, and they’re discontinuous…. They’re being found in 2 or 3 feet of water, just below the low-tide line.”

That’s bad news for a lot of reasons, including that the tar mats are lingering in areas with a lot of vessel traffic that can stir things up. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more more about that soon enough. Spring break begins in less than two months, and there’s still a tremendous amount of cleanup to be done.

The detailed Times-Picayune story is here: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/12/gulf_of_mexico_oil_spill_conti.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

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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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