Mississippi still seeing tar balls from Gulf oil spill


JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi is still seeing some lingering, visible effects from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality told lawmakers Monday.

“We have isolated and sporadic tar balls still coming on the Mississippi shoreline,” Trudy Fisher told members of the House Conservation and Water Resources during a briefing at the Capitol.

Fisher said state and federal employees, and BP contractors, are working to restore the barrier islands a dozen miles south of Mississippi’s main shoreline. She said the goal is to finish cleaning up the islands by early March, when the nesting season for birds begins.

Bill Walker, director of the state Department of Marine Resources, told lawmakers that Gulf seafood has been tested extensively and is safe to eat.

Walker also said there’s no reason to believe that large amounts of oil are still floating, undetected, in the Gulf.

“If there is a lot of this out there, we are having a heck of a time finding it,” Walker said.

Fisher said the April 20 rig explosion, which killed 11 workers, was a “horrific event.” The well site, about 50 miles south of Louisiana, was capped July 15, only after the federal government estimated it gushed 206 million gallons of oil.

Oil washed ashore in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida.

Fisher offered lawmakers some statistics about the response:

  • 6,212 people are still deployed to work on oil spill recovery across the Gulf region, with 569 still in Mississippi. Fisher said that includes BP employees, contract workers, state employees and others.
  • 25,803 samples have been collected by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality since the drilling rig exploded. Fisher said those include samples of air, soil, water and fish tissue.
  • More than 16,423 tons of tar balls were removed from Mississippi shorelines. Fisher said that’s the equivalent of 1,650 dump truck loads.
  • More than 570,000 feet of oil-absorbing boom were deployed, then removed, along Mississippi shorelines.

“We’re making sure that BP is doing what they said they are going to do,” Fisher said. “And they are.”

Democratic Rep. John Mayo of Clarksdale, who chairs the House Conservation and Water Resources Committee, said he took several trips to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, at his own expense, to see how BP and state and federal workers were responding.

“We were really scared during the summer, and particularly when the well was capped, that BP would just disappear,” Mayo said.

He said the briefing Monday showed that BP is taking responsibility for the cleanup and long-term restoration.

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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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