“There’s an incredible amount of oil that’s still out there”


Earlier this year, the Coast Guard and officials in three states that were heavily affected by the BP oil spill in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon — Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — suspended their active spill cleanup efforts. To the casual observer — especially to an outsider who doesn’t follow news of the Gulf Coast but who’s been bombarded by BP’s feel-good advertising blitz — that would seem like a logical thing to do, given that it’s been 40 months now since BP’s damaged rig began spewing its 5 million barrels of crude oil.

In fact, there is considerable oil still in the Gulf, and it continues to wash onto our beaches, especially after a major storm. This weekend, there was a revealing piece in the Advocate newspaper about the crews that still monitor and clean-up the beaches in Louisiana, the one state that did not discontinue its efforts. Indeed, the team here in the Sportsman’s Paradise has plenty to do.

Ninety contract workers in Louisiana, the only state that still has active cleanup workers, are patrolling for oil on 76 of the 3,192 shoreline miles that were part of the oil response effort.

Despite their work, a state official contends the U.S. Coast Guard isn’t doing enough to hold BP accountable in looking for oil that still could wash up on Louisiana shores.

“There’s an incredible amount of oil that’s still out there,” said Garret Graves, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities and chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

State officials have said there are 200 miles of shoreline that still have some level of oil pollution, and they are still concerned about oil that could resurface in storms.

To regular readers of this site, the revelation that “an incredible amount of oil” is washing up on Louisiana’s beaches will probably not come as a shock; in recent weeks I’ve reported on a massive tar mat that came ashore on Isle Grand Terre — which tested as highly toxic 100 percent crude oil — as well as tar balls in Pensacola, Florida, in one of the states that has discontinued its operations. Still, it’s worth noting for a few reasons.

1) Despite official denials, the amount of oil that the Louisiana crew is discovering is quite large. A Coast Guard official notes, in an effort to be dismissive, that 85 percent of the 2.9 million pounds that the Louisiana crew raked up from the beaches was not oil. Doing the math, that suggests that at least 217 tons of pure crude oil was extracted, in a period three years after the accident, and we know that much more remains in the Gulf or buried under beaches.

2) It’s important to note that the Louisiana official who is quoted in the article is an appointee of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is one of the more pro-oil-and-gas governors that we’ve had in the state (which is saying a lot). That fact that a Jindal aide is so concerned should give you an idea of the true extent of the problem.

3) Once again, we see the federal government inclined to side with BP rather than with the citizens of Louisiana. In this case, Graves — the state official — said that he had discussed future clean-up operations with the Coast Guard and received what sounds like a lukewarm response:

“He didn’t say no,” Graves said. “What we’ve seen in the past is if BP doesn’t want it, Coast Guard doesn’t push it.” He’s also concerned the Coast Guard and BP are trying to lay the groundwork to “walk after hurricane season,” and call the cleanup complete.

That is troubling, to say the least. Look, everyone wishes that this hell that BP unleashed upon the Gulf were over and we could all get back to our lives. But to walk away would be irresponsible — in the same way that it’s irresponsible for the Coast Guard to act as if the beaches are completely clean. And so we’ll keep writing about tar balls and beach pollution — because Washington and BP simply do not want you to know about this.

Read more from the Advocate about the ongoing cleanup from the BP oil spill along the Louisiana coastline at: http://theadvocate.com/home/6740950-125/efforts-to-locate-oil-on#.Uge9O8Cs14E.email

Read my July 26 blog post about the tar balls polluting a beach near Pensacola: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/florida-beach-laced-with-bps-toxic-oily-goop/

Check out my July 11 blog post about the massive tar mat at Isle Grand Terre: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/bp-oil-still-assaulting-gulf-beaches-getting-more-toxic/

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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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