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Louisiana officials: Parts of coastline still heavily oiled

January 10, 2011

More than eight months after an oil rig explosion launched the biggest oil disaster in U.S. history, Louisiana officials say they’re still finding thick layers of oil along parts of the state’s coastline.

“Every day, this shoreline is moving inland,” lessening flood protection for residents, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said.

On Friday, Robert Barham, secretary of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, joined Nungesser on a tour of portion of Louisiana’s coastline still heavily oiled by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to a statement from the wildlife and fisheries department.

“It has been eight months since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, and five months since the well was capped. While workers along the coast dedicated themselves to cleaning up our shores there is still so much to be done,” Barham said in the statement.

During a walking tour of an area called Bay Jimmy, Nungesser said oil can be seen from a distance.

“When the tide is out … you can see thick oil onto the water for 30, 40 feet out,” the parish president said. “There’s been no mechanism to clean that up thus far.”

At one point on Friday, Nungesser began cursing at U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Dan Lauer.

“It seems like the federal agencies and the Coast Guard is there protecting BP. You guys ought to be as angry as me, that we don’t have more people out here doing this,” Nungesser said.

Lauer said officials are trying to determine the best way to rid the oil while considering long-term effects of cleanup techniques.

“The main thing we want to make sure of is … in trying to get this oil out that we don’t kill the rest of the isle — that we don’t do more damage to the environment long-term than the good we would do from removing this oil right now, ” Lauer said.

“Clearly, there is oil. Clearly, this is heavily oiled marsh. But we are working together in a team,” Lauer said. “No one is walking away. Clearly these are high priorities. But there are different phases in different areas.”

Louisiana officials said biologists have found several oiled birds in the past few days, including at least two dead brown pelicans. The wildlife and fisheries department also said oiled boom remains in “numerous locations, forgotten or lost by contractors charged with their maintenance and removal.”

“We will continue to try to work with BP, their contractors and federal officials to come up with reasonable, effective solutions for treating and restoring our coastline,” Barham said. “But we won’t step back while officials pack their bags and leave Louisiana. We’re hopeful that we can reach an agreement for the next steps in our recovery plan.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior said it was implementing reforms and has deployed at least 214 personnel, including from the Fish and Wildlife Service to address long-term damage and from the National Park Service to assist with shoreline cleanup and assessment, according to the department’s website.

On Wednesday, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released a chapter of the report that it says contains the key findings. The report is to be released in full on Tuesday.

“The Macondo (well) blowout was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent,” the report says.

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

An April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men and injured 17 working on the rig. The well spewed crude into the gulf for three months before the wellhead was successfully capped.

But nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil — more than 200 million gallons — spilled into the salt waters, washing up onto beaches and penetrating fragile marshes. Birds and other animals were coated in an oily sheen.

The Deepwater Horizon rig was owned by Transocean and leased to BP. Halliburton was installing the cement casing for the drill operations.

“Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money),” the report says.

BP spokesman Robert Sholars has said the oil giant “has cooperated fully with the commission’s investigation,” stressing “that the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies.”

Halliburton issued a response to Wednesday’s release, accusing the commission of having “selectively omitted information we provided to them.” The company also disagreed with certain specifics, saying the report mischaracterized foam stability tests.

Transocean issued a statement saying its crew had taken “appropriate actions to gain control of the well. They were well trained and considered to be among the best in the business.”

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