Unannounced dispersant-spraying drill puts fishermen, parish officials on edgeJul 10th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: top story
After an unannounced oil spill dispersant drill last month, parish officials and the Department of Environmental Quality are working together to investigate what exactly was sprayed during the drill, said P.J. Hahn, Plaquemines Parish Director of Coastal Zone Management.
On June 13 fishermen working off the coast of Venice called Hahn and Parish President Billy Nungesser and told them low-flying planes were spraying something that turned to foam on the water and made their skin itch and burn.
Pilots with Daybrook Fisheries captured images of the spots that could have been effected by the spray. The images reveal white streaks and ripples across the surface of the water.
Hahn said he contacted the Coast Guard for information and they had no knowledge of the activity. After Hahn forwarded Daybrook’s photos to them, the Coast Guard found that drill was directed by Marine Spill Response Corp., an oil industry non-profit organization out of Mississippi. According to an email from Captain Peter Gautier with the Coast Guard, private oil-spill responders often do water-spraying drills to meet Coast Guard spill preparedness requirements for contractors with pollution response capability.
Because Tropical Storm Debby was in the Gulf at the time of the drill, Hahn says waters were too high to get a decent sample until recently. However, the Coast Guard and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office concluded it’s investigation Friday, July 6. Gautier says they consulted experts from NOAA and they say the photos “don’t remotely resemble how a dispersant spray would appear on water– dispersants don’t foam up like this and multiple aircraft would have to make multiple applications to cover this large of an area.”
The Coast Guard also sought an opinion from a biologist at the University of Louisiana on what the white, foamy subtance could be and the biologist indicated that “the photos certainly seem to show microscopic algal blooms. Common algae that are harmful (HAB=Harmful Algal Blooms) and provoke skin irritation in the Northern Gulf of Mexico belong to the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia”.
Although relieved that the white foam isn’t attributed to oil-spill dispersant, ultimately, the administration is frustrated with the lack of notification from the MSRC.
“Our guys are gun-shy these days– we don’t trust the government, we don’t trust BP, so it’s important that whenever they do things like this, they notify the parish,” Hahn explained.
Gautier further explained that MSRC will cease dispersant drills in the Chandeleur Sound area, and the Coast Guard will most definitely notify the parish should another drill take place.
“Our lesson in this is to make sure that parishes and stakeholders are better informed when these exercises are held so we can address concerns and misperceptions when they come up,” Gautier stated.