Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst

By Friday, Hancock County had made it through another week without being touched by more than 2 million gallons of crude oil that has spewed from the British Petroleum well in the Gulf of Mexico, but the Chandeleur Islands and parts of South Louisiana did not fare as well.
Oil sheen and thicker blobs of oil were seen late in the week in the Chandeleur region, a critical spawning and breeding area for sea life and waterfowl.
“We’re starting to see the first impact,” Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, incident coordinator of the oil spill response, said during a press briefing. “We do have some early signs of oil.”
Since the Deepwater Horizon rig sunk 50 miles from Louisiana 11 days ago, an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil daily have been gushing into the Gulf.
The result: Hancock County and many other waterfront communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida remain threatened and poised in a state of emergency.
In Waveland Friday afternoon, a resident reported a suspicious substance washing up on the beach. Part of it was a brown, bubbly substance and parts were reddish-orange streaks left in the sand from the departing tide.
Hancock County Emergency Management Director Brian Adam said the substance was not believed to be oil-related. “We are asking the Department of Marine Resources to test it, just to be safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, controlled burning of corralled oil on Gulf waters resumed again late in the week. A giant containment structure is now being placed over the leak area, hundreds of miles of booms have been strung coast-wide, and aircraft continue to drop dispersants on the oil.
British Petroleum, tagged by federal officials as the responsible party for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, has begun disbursing money that includes $25 million grants to Mississippi and each of the other three affected Gulf Coast states.
“Claims are being processed and checks are being delivered,” said Doug Shuttles, BP Group CEO.
As that occurred, nervous eyes were being cast upon the Louisiana shoreline. Late Thursday, the massive oil slick took a westerly drift, and winds this weekend were expected to be mostly from the south.
Hancock County fisherman Kenny Shiyou said he spotted oil in Chandeleur Sound and around Freemason Island as early as Wednesday, when he made a Gulfward trip. “The first I saw was 38 miles south of here,” he said after returning to Bay St. Louis.
Shiyou said he spotted oil sheen on the waters, as well as tar-ball substances. He also encountered a sea bird in the water that apparently had been in contact with soap-based dispersants used to break up the oil. Some underwater dispersants have also been sporadically used to fight the spill, but there are public fears that method of breaking up the oil could harm sea life.
“What is the impact of the sub-sea dispersants? This is being very carefully evaluated,” Landry said.
At an emergency operations briefing Friday, Adam said the oil slick could be closer to Mississippi waters than the official estimate of 30 miles. “Looking at the latest map, it could be 15 or 20 miles offshore,” he said.
Shuttles said the 40-foot high containment boom was on the scene of the leaks and being lowered over the ruptured well, to catch escaping oil and pipe it up to ships on the surface.
If the operation succeeds, it could capture up to 85 percent of the oil, Shuttles said. But he said similar operations previously have been conducted only in shallow water – not at 5,000 feet below the Gulf, where this problem is located.
“It has never been done before at this depth, and that’s the scary part,” he said.
In Bay St. Louis, residents complained Friday of a strong petroleum smell along the bay Thursday night. “It was really bad near the car bridge,” City Councilwoman Wendy McDonald Said.
So Hancock County residents went into another weekend still waiting and watching.
“It’s not like a hurricane coming, or anything they’ve ever handled before,” said County Supervisor Tony Wayne Ladner.
Out in the Gulf, various methods aside from placing the containment structure continued, in efforts to stop the flow of oil.
“We’re not going to back off until this well is sealed,” Landry said.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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