Oil cleanup workers at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge have endured wilting heat, and now they’re toiling in the windy cold.
The 140 crew members for Task Force 1 — covering a territory from Mobile Street to the tip of the Fort Morgan peninsula in south Baldwin County — are removing between 4,000 and 8,000 pounds of oil waste per day, seven days a week.
That estimate comes from O’Brien’s Response Management supervisor Phil Perry, a retired Coast Guard officer who led visitors on a site tour. ORM is one of many contractors doing cleanup work for BP PLC.
Another task force on the refuge is making similar progress.
The cleanup work takes a more delicate pace within the Bon Secour refuge, which encompasses about 7,000 acres including 3.5 miles of beaches.
“This is the last remaining intact dune ecosystem in Alabama,” said refuge Manager Jereme Phillips, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee.
Phillips has been based at the refuge for eight years, a hectic time that’s included the oil spill and two major hurricanes.
“Nowhere else can you find pristine beaches that transition to frontal dunes, tertiary dunes and then a maritime forest behind that,” Phillips said. “It’s still natural and unfragmented. There are portions of this elsewhere, but you’d find a highway in the middle of it.”
The refuge also contains fresh and saltwater marshes.
Of the main types of beach cleaning that BP has employed — the Sand Shark tractors, power screeners and hand-cleaning — the latter is seen most on the Bon Secour refuge.
Even getting to the work sites is different here, Phillips said.
Workers in utility vehicles keep within a tightly marked pathway, their movements and actions monitored by resource advisers from the Fish and Wildlife agency.
Workers are primarily looking for tar mats. Those thin layers of oil, buried by blowing sand, can be buried 2 feet deep or more. Workers follow the vein of oil, removing it as precisely as possible.
Tarballs on top of the sand can be picked up with the same kind of hand nets used to clean pools.
Perry said that the chilly weather and passage of time since the spill have made the oil drier and thus easier to collect.
Workers continue to wear hazmat gloves and booties, but now also sport additional headgear and layers to stay warm.
“When the oil was gooier, the booties were important because we didn’t want them tracking oil from the work site, but the oil is so dry now it won’t stick,” Perry said.
Phillips said he’s been pleased with the working relationship between contractors and those charged with protecting wildlife habitat, whether it be sea turtles, shore-nesting birds or other creatures.
“It’s very much a joint effort and it’s moving forward but it’s going to be a long road. We won’t be completely finished with cleanup operations anytime soon,” he said.
BP spokesman Justin Saia said, “We’ve said all along that we expect the beaches to be clean by spring break tourism season, that’s been our goal and commitment all along, and from what I hear things are going well toward reaching that goal.”
See video here: http://blog.al.com/live/2010/12/oil_cleanup_slow_careful_in_bo.html