Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Not so fast, BP

From the Houma Courier

Almost a year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico, new oil is still washing up on local beaches, including Elmer's Island.

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham called the departure unacceptable, especially since new oil is being discovered in places like Bay Jimmy, Red Fish Bay and Pass-a-Loutre.

Oiled birds are still being recovered in these areas and others. A dolphin was also rescued from the area recently and later released off the Florida coast, Barham said.

The most distressing report, though, comes out of Elmer's Island, near Grand Isle. Barham said there's new oil showing up on its beaches, including tar balls and a submerged mat of crude.

Elmer's Island, once a tourist hotspot, remains closed to fishing and recreation.

Barham said he has received mixed signals from BP and the federal government on whether either will continue to clean new instances of oil after the close of this month.

Federal law, though, gives the state final say over when an area is determined cleaned, Barham said.

"In that regard, I have some security," Barham said. "But BP has sent some subtle messages that it wants to take the position that nature should takes its course at this point and that they have basically cleaned everything up. They think they're on the backside of this. But we're going to hold them accountable."

Mike Utsler, COO of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, said the seasonal low tide of winter was expected to reveal tar mats near shore and tar balls are still washing up in limited areas across the coast.

Utsler, who has hosted Facebook question sessions and is serving as the public face for BP's clean up, contends BP's efforts won't stop when a beach is cleaned.

"BP is going to be in the communities of the Gulf Coast for the long-term, and part of our continuing job will be to closely monitor the shoreline for any signs of tarred material," he said. "We have specially trained reconnaissance teams that patrol the shoreline looking for any signs of tar balls, and if we find any, we will still have locally based response teams and equipment ready to rapidly clean the area."

Initially, he said BP's goal was to have all of the Gulf Coast's "amenity beaches" cleaned up in time for spring break.

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