Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"Tar balls reach Lake Pontchartrain" (and Galvaston)

By David Hammer at The Times-Picayune

Showing just how unpredictable and all-consuming the massive Gulf oil spill can be, tar balls and small sheens of oil have entered Lake Pontchartrain and are hitting Texas shores for the first time.

John Lopez, director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's coastal stainability program, spotted the first tar balls in the Rigolets Pass on Sunday. By Monday, the blobs of oil had washed ashore as far west as Treasure Isle in Slidell.

Cleanup crews used nets to scoop up the tar balls throughout the day, collecting more than 1,000 pounds of oil and waste. BP also deployed 19 manual skimming vessels and four decontamination vessels to the area, and placed 600-feet of hard and soft boom at a choke point in the Rigolets to prevent more oil from entering the lake. Cleanup efforts are expected to resume today.

Lopez said oil made its way into the lake because of winds from the far edges of Hurricane Alex last week as well as sustained east and southeast winds during the weekend. The winds from Alex pushed a large amount of oil into the Mississippi Sound for the first time, and the east winds during the past few days pushed oil into Lake Borgne, the Rigolets and eventually the eastern stretches of Lake Pontchartrain.

Wind patterns ultimately will decide the trajectory of oil, but Lopez said the general pattern of circulation in Lake Pontchartrain is counterclockwise, meaning if more oil came in the lake, it generally would travel along the north shore and then possibly loop back around to the south.

Although he expects the impacts from oil in the lake to be "pretty modest," Lopez acknowledged that there is a symbolism for the New Orleans area now that oil has reached the lake.

"It's kind of like it's coming to home now."

Citing the new reports of oil, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on Monday issued precautionary fishing closures in parts of Lake Pontchartrain and in Lake Borgne, Lake St. Catherine, the passes and surrounding areas. The state's Department of Health and Hospitals also closed all oyster harvesting areas east of the Mississippi River, which includes Lake Borgne....

Also on Monday, The Associated Press reported that Texas crews were removing tar balls from the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island.

The Texas landfall and the encroachment into Lake Pontchartrain weren't unexpected, but they were staggering nonetheless, as the previously spared gateways to the highly populated areas saw the first physical evidence that they would not be immune.
A lot of the spill's drastic movement during the weekend was caused by the peripheral effects of Alex, which also stymied BP's cleanup and containment efforts temporarily. Cleanup was suspended for three days, BP said.

The company has reported spending more than $3.1 billion on the whole spill response so far, even as it pushed for its ownership partners in the blown-out well to pick up a share of the bill. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., another big Gulf of Mexico oil producer, paid for 25 percent of the Macondo oil field lease, while Japan's Mitsui had a 10 percent stake.

But Anadarko has insisted for weeks that it played no role in the drilling operations and wouldn't be responsible for BP's "reckless decisions and actions" in handling the well that blew out of control April 20, killing 11 rig workers and setting in motion a series of events that have damaged the Gulf....

BP's payments to spill victims -- those injured physically or economically by the oil -- have not kept pace with what it has spent on containment, according to newly released data. The British oil giant agreed recently to release spreadsheets detailing its claims process and payments, which total about $147 million for more than 47,000 claims across the entire Gulf Coast -- or about 5 percent of what BP has spent overall.

BP says it's averaging five days to pay a claim, but about half of the 95,000 claims filed haven't been paid yet...

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