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Observations of Oil on the Coast-June 1
by Randy Lanctot, Executive Director, Louisiana Wildlife Federation
I went down to the coast last Tuesday (1 June 2010) for the second time since the DWH blowout to help NWF with a media tour of the impacted area. We left Venice out Tiger pass on a recreational charter boat to look for oil. It was a calm day with slick seas and some swells. The discharge plume of the Mississippi River extended for several miles as the River has been at flood stage for several days.
At the confluence of the fresh river water and the Gulf waters there was an thin accumulation of what appeared to be mostly emulsified oil stretching all along the interface. We cruised several miles to the SW in search of major oil slicks. Despite what appeared to be ideal conditions, there was little surface activity such as shrimp or baitfish jumping or the occasional strike by a predator fish that you can normally expect to see on such an outing this time of year. The water was a little "off" color, but one observation does not a conclusion make, so I cannot attribute this to the gusher that has been spewing oil treated with dispersants 40 miles to the southeast of our location for the past 40+ days. There were occasional globules of emulsified oil surrounded by sheen.
At about 7 miles south of Barataria Bay and 7 miles SW of the mouth of Tiger Pass we encountered a significant accumulation of mostly emulsified oil several feet wide and following a rip current for as far as I could see. I picked some of it up and could smell the dispersant that is being used to break up the oil. The oil was degraded and the smell of hydrocarbons was faint. It was the consistency of mousse and clung to my hand, smearing. It was easily wiped off with a rag (something the wildlife that encounters it doesn't have, of course).
We continued to the SW and at about 16 miles South of Barataria Bay you might say we "struck oil." Along a rip current and as far as the eye could see was a10-30' wide seam of oil. Some was emulsified and some was sheen, but most was thick and tar-like. Here the odor of hydrocarbons in the air was significant (though not any worse that what envelops my home garage on occasion). The oil covered the Sargasso weed along the rip. I reached out to pick up a clump and found the underside full of critters like crabs, eels, and other things that normally shelter in the weed. They seemed to be unaffected thus far.
After following the slick for several miles we headed to Barataria Bay to look at some of the islands harboring pelicans, seagulls and other birds. Other than the boom deployed around the islands, everything seemed normal with many pelicans flying about and feeding in Barataria Bay. We headed in after that. Two days later, Grand Terre and Queen Bess Islands just east if Grand Isle received significant oil with many pelicans being impacted. It is likely that the slick we observed was the culprit when the tide and waves brought it closer to shore.
While on the slick we noticed some work boats and barges staged, but there was no activity directed at sucking up the oil. Apparently either the skimming technology is unavailable, is not adequately sufficient, or was being deployed elsewhere. The currents were containing the oil and the seas were calm, so no boom was needed and the linear configuration of the slick made it ideal for skimming, or so it seemed to me. It is obvious that our capacity to develop offshore minerals far exceeds the capacity, even under ideal weather and sea conditions, to effectively recover oil that accidentally enters the ecosystem before it threatens the shore.
I have posted a few photos of the conditions we observed. We will observe over the ensuing months and years the adequacy of the Gulf of Mexico's vaunted recuperative powers to sustain the impacts of this event. I have no predilection of how long it will take, but I hope we can encourage and accelerate it as much as possible without contributing further harm in our ardor to do good.