Despite BP well kill, Inland Waterways Strike Force continues to battle stubborn oilSep 28th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: top story
Officials with BP and the U.S. Coast Guard formally announced Sept. 19 that BP’s runaway well had finally been killed for good. Though no oil had flowed from the damaged well since July 15, BP went ahead with the “bottom kill” procedure to cement the well shut for good.
The announcement came close to five full months after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig triggered what would become the largest oil spill in American history.
The Sept. 19 announcement finally signaled a shift from response to recovery for oil spill cleanup. But the federal on-scene coordinator of the recovery Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft last week made clear that the cleanup is not over yet. Zukunft had just returned from Bay Jimmy in Plaquemines Parish where oil is still surfacing on a regular basis.
“We haven’t had any oil released since the 15th of July. We continue to respond to these pockets of oil. They are basically job sites now where we still have residual oil and 600 miles of coastline that is still affected,” Zukunft said. “When people think ‘coastline,’ you normally think the straight coastline of the Florida panhandle. When you get over here in Louisiana, it’s back in marshes and estuaries and very remote locations, so logistics is our challenge. But again, there is still plenty of work remaining.”
Indeed,thousands of gallons of oil, oily waste and tar balls continue to wash into inland waters and onto coastal beaches near Southeast Pass, Southwest Pass and Pass Chaland, the parish reported last week. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said the oil in marshes at Bay Jimmy has been unrelenting.
“We continue to fight this oil every day, but often it seems the more we pick up the more there is,” Nungesser said. “In the past eight days we have picked up 31,905 gallons of oil/water mix in the marshes in Bay Jimmy. In the week before that, we collected 26,375 gallons. This stuff isn’t going away.”
The Inland Waterways Strike Force also collected 1,875 bags of oily waste from the beach at Southeast Pass, 8,447 bags of oily waste from the beach at Southwest Pass and 1,977 bags of tar balls at Pass Chaland.
Nungesser traveled to Washington D.C. Monday to testify before Congress regarding the ongoing threat of oil despite the well’s closure.
Zukunft last week also highlighted another continued source of concern for response workers moving forward – the threat of submerged oil. Sam Walker with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explained what his agency is doing to protect against unseen, submerged oil.
“What we are trying to get a handle on is, you know, what is the form of oil if any remains and can we take action against that oil,” Walker said of submerged oil. “We are using surface vessels that monitor down through the water column. We’re using ocean gliders that help to check the presence of hydrocarbons in the water column.”
Local residents and university scientists feared for months that the use of subsurface dispersants to help break up the oil at the well head was actually suspending oil beneath the surface of the ocean, making it more difficult – if not impossible – to clean up. Federal officials initially denied the existence of the underwater plumes of oil, despite research from university scientists that indicated they did exist.
Walker said NOAA is now working with university scientists to look for both near-shore and offshore oil suspended in the water column. But he emphasized that it’s an arduous process.
“But what we can say is that, over the past couple of months since the well has been capped, we’ve been seeing a very clear trend of diminished concentrations (of oil) particularly in the water column,” he said.