Federal report suggests Gulf oil spill beach cleanup is about over


Federal officials released a report Friday that suggests cleanup operations have removed as much oil as is practical from most shorelines in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.

Further cleanup in many areas, the report argues, will do more harm to the environment than leaving the remaining oil in place.

Titled, “Summary Report for Fate and Effects of Remnant Oil in the Beach Environment” the report was drafted by the federal science advisory team studying the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf.

Its conclusions mirror comments the science group made when drafting the “no further treatment” standards for the cleanup several months ago.

Submerged mats of oil still being discovered just off the beaches in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida are considered an exception to the rule that further cleanup will do more damage, according to the report. The submerged oil still contains many of the more-toxic compounds present in crude, while the tarballs on the beaches are more weathered and less dangerous, according to the report.

Aside from the mats, the remaining oil — which the report suggests is either buried under a few inches of sand or present in small tarballs on the beach — poses little threat to humans or wildlife, the report concludes. It documents some areas where the “no further treatment” standard has been reached, including parts of Petit Bois Island and parts of the Fort Morgan peninsula.

“Environmental impacts of remnant oil found on or near beaches after cleanup operations are relatively minor,” reads the report. “Cleanup operations beyond established standards may disturb sensitive habitats and wildlife — posing a greater environmental risk than leaving the residue in place. In these instances, further cleaning will likely do more harm than good to the ecosystem.”

The report is supposed to guide federal and state officials as they decide when to end cleanup efforts. Scientists suggest cleanup efforts could interfere with the breeding activities of birds, sea turtles and mammals such as the Alabama beach mouse.

The report and data associated with it are available at www.restorethegulf.gov.

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

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