Oil complicates hurricane season

Oil thought to be from the gushing Deepwater Horizon well was found at Petit Bois Island Tuesday, as Hancock County officials grew more anxious over still not having cleanup equipment stored locally with hurricane season now officially at hand.

And in the Gulf, British Petroleum was preparing for the latest in a string of attempts to stop the runaway well off Louisiana – this time using a cap-like fix on something called a Lower Marine Riser Package.

The oil at Petit Bois, located south of Pascagoula and near the Alabama-Florida border, was found about 9 a.m, said Kris Sliger, a BP representative who was attending a meeting in Hancock County Tuesday.

He said the substance consisted primarily of “tar patties,” composed of oil that had not been in the water long enough to turn into tar balls. However, Gov. Haley Barbour told reporters the oil also consisted of a caramel-colored strand about two miles long.

Meanwhile, a trajectory on the oil’s possible path released by NOAA showed oil possibly approaching Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores and the mouth of Mobile Bay by noon Thursday.

“Mississippi’s barrier islands could be impacted this week,” a briefing from the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency reported.

At an emergency management briefing Tuesday morning, officials expressed deep concern over the fact that the nearest oil-fighting equipment that could be used in Hancock County waters is being stored in Harrison County.

Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame also said that properly protecting only about two miles of selected areas in the Bay of St. Louis could prevent devastation to miles of inland canals and marshes.

“I want to see a much stronger, visible commitment to protecting the Bay of St. Louis,” Fillingame said.

He added that with hurricane season now beginning, even a milder tropical storm could bring oil in from the Gulf with a tidal surge.

“A small system could be a catastrophe in Hancock County right now, if it tracks through the oil,” he said. However, during a second meeting Tuesday afternoon, local officials failed to gain any firm assurances that they would get oil-fighting equipment staged here.

“We want it sitting in our county,” Supervisor Steve Seymour said during an oil response meeting with the Coast Guard, BP, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and Mississippi First Lady Marsha Barbour.

But the local officials got no assurances, aside from a comment from DEQ Secretary Trudy Fisher, who said, “DEQ is working” on the problem, “though Incident Command” in Mobile.

As the hours wore on and the oil kept flowing at the Deepwater Horizon site in the Gulf, BP was readying its next attempt at stopping the flow. That consists of cutting the damaged riser pipe from the oil well’s failed blowout preventer, then capping the pipe over a Lower Marine Riser Package.

The hope is to capture oil and gas flowing from the well and pipe it to the surface, until two relief wells can be completed by August.

Some scientists are saying that if the tactic fails, it could accelerate the flow of oil, now estimated to be gushing at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

However, the storm season made thoughts expand Tuesday from not just the well operation, but the weather as well.

“If we get a tropical system that tracks through the Gulf to us, all bets are off,” Fillingame said.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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