ORANGE BEACH – Orange Beach officials are considering whether to fund a study by two researchers investigating whether its beaches are clean after last year’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Auburn University professors Joel Hayworth and Prabhakar Clement have requested roughly $100,000 to support their work. The Mobile Press-Register reported Sunday that the scientists hope to release some of their findings before the anniversary of the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The blast killed 11 people and triggered a large offshore oil spill that sent contaminants onto Orange Beach’s coastline.
BP PLC, which leased the drilling rig, earlier this year wrapped up a local cleanup that focused on scrubbing tar beneath the surface of the sand.
“We know that BP has done a lot of work to clean the beaches, but what does that mean with respect to clean? It depends on how you define clean,” Hayworth said. “There’s a real need to be able to state that in some defensible scientific way as quickly as possible.”
Hayworth said the study would examine how the spill affected the beach’s ecosystem, whether it physically changed the beach and how long it takes a beach to recover. The city council did not immediately vote on the proposal.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon has pushed BP to clean the city’s beaches in time for spring break. As the anniversary of the oil spill gets closer, Kennon said he wants his city to be able to say it has a clean bill of health for its air, water and soil.
Local officials have tried to investigate the possible environmental damage. Kennon has dispatched crews to the sand with augers to probe for anything beneath the surface. For months, the city has also collected air, water and sediment samples for testing.
Councilwoman Pattisue Carranza said the findings would be useful to residents.
“What we want is the individual perspective, not the tourists’ perspective, not the science perspective, but what’s it going to do to children and grandchildren in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?” Carranza said. “What’s it going to do to people my age in 30 years?”