With Alex fading, Gulf crews set sights on oil cleanup efforts


New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — Now that former Hurricane Alex has lost nearly all of its punch, many in the Gulf states were hoping that Friday would be the day that they could get back to cleaning up the massive oil spill.

The dangerous storm had created choppy seas in the Gulf of Mexico and caused hundreds of oil skimmers to be docked.

“We had to stand down because of the storm activity. Now that oil has been spewed all over the Chandelier Islands,” Craig Taffaro, the president of St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, said Thursday. “We are going out again (Friday) to start cleaning it up. We have to go back out, basically start over.”

Also in the area Friday will be Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Jackson is headed back to the Gulf Coast, a day after her agency gave BP a new directive on how to deal with the cleanup of the massive oil spill.

Jackson will hold a town hall meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, and tour areas of Pensacola, Florida, on Friday. It will be her sixth trip to the area since the April 20 oil disaster, the EPA said.

On Thursday, the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard issued a directive to BP on how the company should manage recovered oil, contaminated materials and waste recovered in cleanup operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Among other requirements, the directive requires the oil giant to give the EPA and state agencies access to any waste storage site and to provide specific plans, waste reports and tracking systems for liquid and solid waste.

“While the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida are overseeing BP’s waste management activities and conducting inspections, this action today is meant to compliment their activities by providing further oversight and imposing more specific requirements,” the Coast Guard said Thursday. “Under the directive, EPA, in addition to sampling already being done by BP, will begin sampling the waste to help verify that the waste is being properly managed.”

Waste sampling to date has been done in compliance with EPA and state regulatory requirements, the Coast Guard said.

Lawmakers on Thursday also sent a message to BP.

The House of Representatives passed a bill that removes limits on financial damages that can be awarded for accidents off the U.S. coastline, such as the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers.

The bill updates maritime laws that have been on the books since the mid-1800s and early 1920s. Those laws restricted the amount of money families could obtain to compensate for lost wages and funeral expenses. The bill passed Thursday by the House would allow compensation for non-monetary losses such as pain and suffering.

A similar measure awaits action in the Senate.

Meanwhile, rough seas caused by Hurricane Alex, now nothing more than a blustery low pressure system, kept oil-skimming boats out of the Gulf on Thursday and could keep many tied to the dock through the weekend, said Thad Allen, the retired admiral in charge of the federal response to the Gulf oil disaster.

Allen said seas over 5 feet hinder the effectiveness of most boats used to scoop oil. All but the largest vessels will likely be idled until the weekend, he said.

Alex hit the Mexican coast, more than 600 miles from the center of the Gulf disaster, on Wednesday night with 105 mph winds. It had diminished to a tropical storm by Thursday afternoon, but it continued to stir up seas of 6 to 8 feet around the site of the 10-week-old disaster.

The system’s prevailing winds have affected the direction of the oil slick, steering it away from the western Florida Panhandle toward the environmentally sensitive areas off the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Researchers have estimated that between 35,000 barrels (about 1.5 million gallons) and 60,000 barrels (about 2.5 million gallons) of oil have been gushing into the Gulf every day since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana.

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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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