California’s epic drought got even worse last week. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that the area of California under moderate drought (or worse) rose from 94.6 percent of the state to a stunning 99.8 percent. The area under extreme or exceptional drought rose from 65.9 to 71.8 percent, encompassing the entire agriculture-rich Central Valley
Back in January, we interviewed 8 of the leading climate and drought experts in the country, who explained in great detail how climate change is worsening California’s epic drought in multiple ways. As I discussed in my 2011 literature review in the journal Nature — even in regions where climate change does not alter the amount of precipitation, it will have these effects:
What precipitation there is will probably come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun’s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature…. Finally, many regions are expected to see earlier snowmelt, so less water will be stored on mountain tops for the summer dry season.
The president’s science advisor John Holdren made precisely the same points in a recent paper.
These points are disputed by very few. So why is there any confusion? A relatively small subset of experts are focused very narrowly on the issue of whether global warming caused a reduction in precipitation — but they generally fail to make clear how narrow their perspective is. NOAA’s Martin Hoerling did this in a recent New York Times piece, asserting “At present, the scientific evidence does not support an argument that the drought there is appreciably linked to human-induced climate change.”
Now, in fact, there is science supporting the argument that the reduction in precipitation is directly linked to human-induced climate change, specifically Arctic ice loss. I broke that story last June (see here) and updated it again in March.
But even setting aside the precipitation issue, our leading scientists have repeatedly made clear that global warming is worsening the drought. In a letter to the NY Times, three top drought experts — Peter Gleick, Jonathan Overpeck, and Connie Woodhouse — explain that the issue of what “caused” the drought “is the wrong question to ask”:
The current drought has certainly been exacerbated by climate change for one simple reason: Temperatures in California are now higher today, as they are globally. This alone increases water demand by crops and ecosystems, accelerates snowpack loss, and worsens evaporation from reservoirs. There are other complicating effects, but the influence of higher temperatures on drought is already real and cannot be ignored.
We are now unambiguously altering the climate, threatening water supplies for human and natural systems. This is but one example of how even today we are paying the cost of unavoidable climate changes.
As if to underscore this point, last week NOAA released its climate analysis of the U.S. winter, reporting:
California had its warmest winter on record…. The California winter temperature was 48.0°F, 4.4°F above the 20th century average, far exceeding the previous record, set in 1980/81, by 0.8°F.
And as Tamino explains, in California, “If we look at an actual measure of drought — the Palmer Drought Severity Index, or PDSI — then there is a decreasing trend (which means, toward more and/or more extreme drought) which is statistically significant.”
Finally, our favorite climate videographer Peter Sinclair has interviewed a variety of scientists on this subject in yet another must-see video:
Heavy late-summer rains and storm water runoff are being blamed for high bacteria levels at local waterfront parks.
The Okaloosa County Health Department reported Thursday that water quality is poor at 10 of the 13 sites it regularly monitors for enterococci, bacteria found in the intestinal tract of humans and animals.
“You’re going to see spikes in the summer,” said John Hofstad, [the Okaloosa county] public works director. “When you get significant rainfall after extended dry periods, you get that sheet flow of storm water across roads and across lawns … picking up animal waste and various pollutants.”
That polluted water flows into local bays and the Gulf of Mexico, he added.
Signs warn visitors of high bacteria levels and state that swimming is not recommended.
The Health Department uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard to measure local enterococci levels.
Water quality is rated good, moderate or poor, based on the number of enterococci per 100 milliliters of water. Typically, when levels are high — 105 or more per 100 milliliters — people who get in the water may experience symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal illnesses and mild diarrhea to rashes and skin infections.
“You always swim at your own risk in a natural body of water,” Health Department Director Dr. Karen Chapman said. “The greatest risk is for very young children, the elderly and people who have compromised immune systems.”
Healthy people who swim in the polluted water likely will see minimal or no symptoms. But open cuts or sores could result in minor inflammation and infection, she added.
Hofstad, who has studied local water pollution issues since the early 1990s, said improving storm water protections help but will not solve the problem.
“Every time you install a storm water separator, you’re making some attempt to reduce pollutants, and it will have an impact … but you’re still going to have those points on our coastline where storm water will flow into the bay.”
Editor’s note: While this article is region-specific, I’ve included it because of the sheer number of similar articles I have sifted through across not only the country, but the world. E.coli levels at beaches due to runoff and in many instances sewage being pumped directly into the sea is at epidemic proportions and deserves to be brought to awareness and looked at closely by the general public.
by Joel Allen
Dead zones, those areas of low oxygen levels in the ocean that can cause various environmental problems, seem to be showing up more often off the coast of the Grand Strand.
Researchers from Coastal Carolina University have placed water quality monitors on several local piers with the hope that the measurements they gather will help scientists get a better idea of what causes dead zones and perhaps what to do about them.
Scientists from CCU’s Environmental Quality Laboratory showed off their newest sensor equipment to reporters Wednesday.
While fishermen at the Cherry Grove Pier work on landing a big one, the CCU lab’s sensors in the water beneath their feet quietly gather information about things like ocean temperature, dissolved oxygen and barometric pressure.
That information is sent to a public website, where the CCU scientists can use it to get a better idea of what’s going on beneath the ocean surface.
Fishermen can use it, too.
“Different people have different theories about what’s the best time to go fishing and fishing for different fish, and so they can form their own opinions, go on there (to the website) and get the data for themselves and plan their day,” said Dr. Michael Trapp, the director of CCU’s Environmental Quality Lab.
But perhaps the major goal of the monitoring is to find out more about those regions of hypoxia, or low oxygen levels in the ocean, which can lead to fish kills, algae growth and a foul smell.
Researchers think storm water runoff from cities might have something to do with the formation of dead zones along the Grand Strand, but the scientists aren’t sure, which is why Trapp says they need long-term monitoring.
“We don’t know what it was like before there was people, we don’t know what it was like a hundred years ago. We only know what it’s like now and so it’s important to understand what’s going on.”
The city of Myrtle Beach contributed $110,000 toward buying the water monitoring equipment, plus $40,000 per year to help maintain it.
City officials say if it helps the ocean, it’s worth it.
“It is our biggest natural resource. We want to know all that we can about it to make sure that it is here forever for our visitors and our residents, so more data is good, so we’re happy to be a part of this,” said Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea.
The monitor at Cherry Grove pier is the newest, but others are in place at Apache Pier and 2nd Avenue Pier in Myrtle Beach.
Article source: http://www.carolinalive.com/news/story.aspx?id=788868
Vancouver and Longview citizens groups announced Tuesday they will sue the owner of a proposed coal dock in West Longview, contending that Millennium Bulk Terminals is violating the federal Clean Water Act by handling coal without a permit.
An attorney representing the two groups said he will file a federal suit within 60 days to force Millennium to obtain permits for cleanup work at the former Reynolds metals aluminum plant on Industrial Way. The two groups are Longview-based Land Owners and Citizens for a Safe Community and Vancouver-based Rosemere Neighborhood Association.
“Millennium is not a cleanup company. They are a newly formed company that’s in the export business,” said Gayle Kiser, president of the Longview group, an nonprofit with about 80 members in Cowlitz County.
The conservation groups’ Portland attorney, Scott Jerger, alleges in the suit that Millennium has failed to obtain the proper permits for stormwater and wastewater disposal for the past 209 days while handling coal, petcoke and other materials on the site. Millennium has been working on a cleanup of the Columbia River site since the beginning of the year.
Millennium inherited a giant pile of petcoke — a waste byproduct of the oil refining process — from the site’s former tenant, Chinook Ventures, and Millennium officials say they are trying do determine how to remove it. Millennium also is handling about 9,000 tons of coal per month, which it delivers to Weyerhaeuser Co. The conservation groups allege that stormwater running through these materials is causing water pollution.
The total fines for alleged violations would be about $7.8 million, Jerger argued.
The suit was a surprise for Millennium, said Kristin Gaines, the company’s environmental and health manager. She said Tuesday she needed to review the filing before commenting on specific allegations.
“At first glance, I honestly don’t think there’s a lot of merit to their accusations,” she said.
Millennium owns the buildings and equipment on the 416-acre site where it plans to build a export terminal, bringing in coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming and offloading it to ships bound for Asia, mostly China.
Millennium is jointly owned by Australian coal company Ambre Energy and St. Louis-based Arch Coal. The company bought the property for $10.9 million in January from Chinook Ventures.
The mile-long coal trains would likely come through Vancouver rail yards, which is why the Rosemere Neighborhood Association became involved in the suit, said Djiva Bertish, the group’s director of environment and conservation.
The land is owned by Alcoa, which is on the hook with state federal regulators to clean up the site from years of contamination from aluminum smelting by Reynolds. Alcoa plans to submit a cleanup timeline to the state Department of Ecology early next year.
A Clean Water Act lawsuit alleging violations by the Seward Coal Loading Facility was allowed to go forward Jan. 10 by federal district Judge Timothy Burgess.
The coal facility, jointly operated by Alaska Railroad Corp. and Usibelli coal mine subsidiary Aurora Energy Services, has been a sore spot for Seward residents who say the coal dust from operations creates both a nuisance and a public health hazard.
Alaska Railroad Corp. and Aurora Energy Services were denied their bid for dismissal by Burgess.
The lawsuit, filed last January by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the Sierra Club, Alaska Center for the Environment and Alaska Community Action on Toxins, alleges that a conveyor system delivering coal to export vessels allows coal to fall directly into Resurrection Bay along the length of the conveyor system to the loading facility, as well as from the belt after it loops back underneath itself.
Trustees for Alaska said coal dust from the stockpiles, railcar dumping facility, stacker/reclaimer, ship loader and the conveyor systems fall into Resurrection Bay. There are also concerns over Aurora Energy plowing snow that is allegedly contaminated with coal dust, as well as storm water that flows directly into Resurrection Bay.
The coal dust also blows off the facility’s two massive coal stockpiles into the bay, covering nearby fishing charter boats, other vessels and nearby neighborhoods with dust and debris.
“We are pleased that the Court will allow the case to move forward and address the pollution problems at the coal facility in Seward,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Brian Litmans in a statement. “The facility is unable to contain the coal dust and keep coal from going into Resurrection Bay, which violates the law and is an ongoing nuisance and health issue.”
The statement from the consortium of plaintiffs also stated Seward was covered with coal dust both on Dec. 10 and Dec. 22.
Last July, the railroad and Aurora reached a joint compliance order with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to pay a $220,000 fine, with most of that money going toward the cost of dust mitigation measures.
Three supplemental environmental projects ordered by DEC were completed on schedule in 2010 and include the installation of additional dust suppression equipment including spray bards, high-pressure spray nozzles and a sealed chute and fogging system on the stacker/reclaimer.
According to Alaska Railroad Corp. vice president for corporate affairs Wendy Lindskoog, another $540,000 in capital expenditures are planned for 2011 regarding dust suppression projects.
Lindskoog said it is company policy to not comment on ongoing litigation.
The Seward coal loading facility, which is located on land owned by the Alaska Railroad, was originally built in 1984 as an economic development project to sell coal to world markets.
Suneel Alaska Corp., the purchaser of the coal for the Korean domestic market, negotiated with the state for construction of the coal dock and a loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities built the dock and Suneel installed the conveyor and loading systems.
Railroad officials said their participation was limited to leasing waterfront property for the facility and transporting the coal from Healy to Seward under a contract with Suneel.
Suneel and its successor, Hyundai Merchant Marine, continued to purchase coal and operate the facility through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, with AIDEA becoming a co-owner of the facility in 1995.
Hyundai remained the lessee on the property and operated the facility until January 2007, when the railroad entered into an operating agreement with Aurora Energy Services.
Since then, railroad officials said, the Alaska Railroad and Aurora Energy Services have spent more than $1 million on safety, operational and environmental improvements, including significant environmental upgrades to deal with coal dust.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at email@example.com.
Article source: http://www.alaskajournal.com/stories/012111/oil_cwasp.shtml
The following information was released by the office of Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski:
In a bipartisan effort to protect Lake Michigan, Congressman Dan Lipinski and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk were joined today by Sen. Dick Durbin and Congressman Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) to announce they will introduce legislation that will increase fines for dumping sewage into the Great Lakes. Congressman Lipinski has worked with Sen. Kirk on similar legislation over the last two Congresses.
“After working on this legislation over the past two Congresses, I believe we’ve assembled a strong, bipartisan core of support that will enable us to see it signed into law,” Lipinski said at a press conference at the Shedd Aquarium. “The Great Lakes are our region’s most precious natural resource, providing drinking water for 30 million people, unmatched recreational opportunities, and a livelihood for many. Yet each year brings news of more beach closings and swimming bans. We can’t allow the dumping of billions of gallons of raw sewage into the same waters that we use for drinking, swimming, boating and fishing. We need to deter polluters while investing in projects that improve water quality, and this bill accomplishes that.”
The Great Lakes Water Protection Act would more than double fines for sewage dumping to $100,000 a day per violation and make it harder for offenders to avoid fines. Money collected from fines would flow to a Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund created by the legislation to generate financial resources for the Great Lakes states to improve wastewater treatment options, habitat protection, and wastewater treatment systems.
“By joining forces on this important piece of legislation, we believe we can keep our Great Lakes-the crown jewel of the Midwest - clean and safe,” Sen. Kirk said. “Not only does Lake Michigan provide millions of us with our drinking water, it is a vital economic engine to the entire region.”
“Our duty to future generations of Illinoisans is to protect the environment in which we live,” Rep. Dold said. “There is much we can do right here at home by protecting Lake Michigan and its ecosystem. I’m proud to join with Congressman Lipinski and Senators Kirk and Durbin to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure our Great Lakes remain the crown jewel of the Midwest.”
Great Lakes beaches had over 3,000 days worth of closings and advisories last year, and Illinois beaches had warnings or closings 10 percent of the time. Chicago has taken many steps to limit sewer overflow, including such projects as the Deep Tunnel. Other cities dump directly into the Great Lakes. Detroit traditionally has been one of the worst offenders, dumping an estimated 13 billion gallons of sewage into the Great Lakes annually, figures show.
“On Monday, I invited Rep. Dold to cross the aisle and sit with me during the State of the Union next week, and he readily agreed,” Congressman Lipinski said. “That same spirit of unity and bipartisanship is what brought us all together to work on this bill. The American people want to see partisan bickering replaced with productive debate and problem-solving. Democrats and Republicans will always have their differences, but we must find ways to work together for the good of the country. This bill shows that bipartisan cooperation on substantive issues is very much possible.”
(January 21, 2011)
BANGALORE: In its efforts to check the deteriorating quality of water in the lakes across the city due to indiscriminate dumping of waste and discharge of sewerage into the catchment areas, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) is exploring the possibility of installing programmed devices to monitor the water quality in the lakes round the clock.
At present, the KSPCB is testing the accuracy of the devices offered by a private agency in Ulsoor lake, Sankey Tank and Bellandur Lake. According to the sources the cost of each device is expected to vary from `515 lakh according to the parameters that the device is expected to monitor. At present, the devices installed are monitoring the temperature, pH value, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids and turbidity. According to the readings obtained from these devices the water quality is acceptable in Ulsoor Lake and Sankey Tank and bad in Bellandur lake.
The KSPCB Member Secretary M S Gouder said, “We are also thinking of testing these devices for more parameters like E.coli [bacteria] and heavy metals. After the accuracy of these devices are proved, we will consider them in the lakes and coordinate with the other governmental agencies to maintain them in good condition as these devices will help us understand if anything is going wrong.”
According to Gouder these devices will be useful in monitoring the water quality automatically round the clock in the newly rejuvenated lakes as most of them are situated in the outskirts or the newlyadded areas of the city. They are also expected to help the concerned authorities to prevent the flow of sewerage or dumping of waste into the lakes by alerting them when the quality of water starts deteriorating.
Programmed sensors are inserted into the lakes and each sensor monitors a particular parameter and transmits the data to the centralised server every fifteen minutes. The data is later processed and updated on the website and transmitted to the concerned officials periodically.
A man holds a lighter up to a running faucet, only to have the water burst into a fireball that comes perilously close to engulfing the man’s torso in flames. This has become the iconic image of Josh Fox’s documentary examining the dangers of natural gas extraction, Gasland, and for good reason — it’s such a stark, dramatic illustration of the damage energy companies are willing to inflict on both the environment and human lives as they attempt to extract natural gas using the controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” See the trailer for Gasland below.
Fracking, which was first developed by Halliburton (who else?) over 50 years ago, involves drilling a deep, L-shaped well (in the case of horizontal fracking) into an area believed to contain natural gas, then pumping in millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals (known as fracking fluid) to crack the earth around the gas deposit, allowing the gas to escape so it can be captured closer to the surface. However, natural gas as well as the toxic chemicals found in fracking fluid can make their way into aquifers used to supply drinking water, effectively poisoning wells and making tap water combustible.
See my ReThink Review of Gasland below, as well as my conversation with Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks (and MSNBC!) about the dangerous chemicals found in fracking fluid, the energy industry’s response to Gasland, and the connections between fracking, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and peak oil.
As I mentioned in my review, the natural gas industry has responded to Gasland by launching a website called Energy In Depth to debunk its claims. But what’s interesting is what is admitted through this website if one actually reads it, like the fact that fracking has never been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act — something which might have happened in 2004 if a study by Bush’s EPA hadn’t concluded that there was no evidence that fracking polluted water supplies, yet conducted no water tests that would have found such evidence. Or if Dick Cheney’s 2005 energy policy had re-classified fracked wells as injection wells.
It also may be true that only 1% of fracking fluid contains the dozens of dangerous chemicals — like arsenic, asbestos, barium, cadmium, chromium, cyanide, lead, mercury, chlorobenzene, dichlorobenzene, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls, toluene, trichloroethylene, xylene, radium 226-228, uranium, etc. — that can be found on energyindepth.org (if you look hard enough, like on page 2-13 through 2-16). But when you consider the fact that each frack uses 3-8 million gallons of fracking fluid, and that wells are commonly fracked dozens of times (and maybe even upwards of 300 times), that 1% adds up to millions of gallons of chemicals, much of which is never recovered for treatment.
In an interview with the New York Times, Fox promised a response to Energy in Depth’s attacks on Gasland, which you can find here. But perhaps the clearest response by the energy industry is their reluctance to respond to what would seem like a simple request by Fox:
I’ve been asking the industry since the movie has been out there, “If you’ve got a town where there’s more than 100 wells, and everything’s going fine, and you don’t have these issues, take me there.”
You can also find out more about the FRAC Act and efforts to prevent fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation that runs under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Tennessee by visiting MarcellusProtest.org.
For more ReThink Reviews, visit ReThinkReviews.net
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The chemicals that spilled after a fire at the JJ Chemical Co. plant off Olympic Drive wiped out aquatic life in a stretch of Trail Creek and cost two dozen people their jobs.
But the July 28 fire and resulting chemical spill exposed a much more troubling problem, some believe.
“One of the things that sticks with me still is that this is what it looks like on the ground when some of the very basics of the state government’s role in our communities are eroded by budget cuts and staff reductions,” said Ben Emanuel, Oconee River projects coordinator for the Altamaha Riverkeeper, one of the groups that banded together to gather information and post warning signs after the spill.
Emanuel believes budget cuts over the past few years at the state Environmental Protection Division, the lead state agency in environmental disasters like the Trail Creek spill, may be so deep that the agency may not be able to do its job of environmental protection any more.
EPD workers put in long hours trying to assess the spill and limit its effects, but an EPD emergency team took hours to respond as the fire launched exploding fireballs and sent towering plumes of black smoke into the Athens night sky. And like citizens and elected officials, both the EPD and local emergency response teams had a hard time at first finding out just what was in the chemical runoff that poured into a branch of Trail Creek as firefighters used 740,000 gallons of water to keep the fire from spreading.
The water flowing off the fire site at the building on Trans Tech Drive, in Northeast Clarke County, carried thousands of gallons of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, paradichlorobenzene and dozens of other chemicals downstream. Also in the mix were oily perfumes and a brilliant blue dye that made it easy to see the contamination as it flowed down Trail Creek and into the North Oconee River at Dudley Park.
But most people at first knew only that the water looked and smelled funny.
“The first few days was a real exercise in frustration,” said District 9 Commissioner Kelly Girtz, one of many who struggled to get answers in the days following the fire about the runoff and whether it was dangerous to people or pets.
“I think I spent about 30 hours … dealing with phone calls and messages,” Girtz said. “I was getting the sense that there was incomplete information at best, and seemingly no one steering the ship.”
In the end, it was not the RPD or the Athens-Clarke government but volunteers from a coalition of environmental groups Emanuel pulled together that posted warning signs along the stream telling people to avoid contact with the water - four days after runoff from the fire gushed downstream.
Commissioners like Girtz and Andy Herod got dozens of e-mails and calls from constituents, alarmed after noticing the water smelled like urinal cakes or seeing it flow toilet-bowl blue and wondering if they were safe.
Herod couldn’t tell them anything at first because he couldn’t find out anything, either, he said.
“I think there was a general failure to communicate,” Herod said. “The elected officials were basically left in the dark as to what was going on.”
Athens-Clarke government administrators vowed to do a better job of communicating to the public and to officials in future emergencies.
“One of the main things it reinforces for me is that we are a community that thrives on information. The better information we can share, the more confidence the community has in what we do,” said Athens-Clarke Manager Alan Reddish.
EPD officials said the agency would communicate better in the future, both within the agency and to outsiders. But EPD emergency responders were hampered during the Trail Creek spill because they couldn’t get information quickly from the chemical company or the cleanup company it hired about what chemicals were in the plant or about the unfolding crisis, according to an EPD report on the spill.
Emanuel wonders if the spill signals the beginning of an era of do-it-yourself environmental protection for the state.
“EPD has been gutted, and that hampered their ability to respond,” he said.
Meanwhile, Emanuel and others are keeping a close eye on the stream, wondering how long it may take to recover.
Eventually, the blue water flowed on downstream, along with the toxic chemicals. Water samples taken in mid-November showed no detectable levels of paradichlorobenzene, the EPD announced early in December. The formaldehyde was gone by September, the agency said.
But life has been slow to return to the creek, said Jessica Sterling, a graduate student in ecology and a member of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, which has for years monitored the health of Trail Creek and other Athens waterways.
UOWN volunteers last tested Trail Creek’s waters Nov. 13, and will test again early next year.
Contamination remains at a small wetland off Olympic Drive, just downstream from JJ Chemical, Sterling said.
“We could still smell that perfume, and see that grayish-blue color,” she said. “It makes you wonder what’s still there.”
But UOWN volunteers did find a few living creatures such as blood worms, which can survive in polluted water; in August, they found none.
Although Athens-Clarke officials have made progress in reducing pollution from everyday sources such as runoff from parking lots, Sterling wonders how much planning local officials have done to protect area waters from catastrophic chemical spills like the one that killed Trail Creek.
The county had another major spill just seven years ago, when gasoline wiped out life in Hunnicutt Creek, which flows into the Middle Oconee River at Ben Burton Park.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re prepared for that at all,” she said. “What is the plan? Is there a plan?”
Life returned to Hunnicutt Creek in about a year, but neither environmental officials nor local water activists can say if Trail Creek will recover that quickly.
Gasoline, the major pollutant in the Hunnicutt Creek spill, is lighter than water, so most of the poison was flushed downstream quickly.
Sterling and other water activists suspect some of the toxic chemicals that poisoned Trail Creek may have sunk into stream sediments and will be slowly released into the creek’s waters for a long time to come.
A company hired to clean up the land around the chemical factory is scheduled to finish its cleanup and issue a final report to EPD officials by Jan. 14; after that, officials in the environmental agency will decide whether the company will also have to undertake a second cleanup in Trail Creek itself.
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, December 31, 2010
Article source: http://onlineathens.com/stories/123110/new_763658698.shtml
Published: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 7:30 PM Updated: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 8:10 PM
Louisiana’s coastline continues to be smeared with significant amounts of oil and oiled material from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, with cleanup teams struggling to remove as much as possible of the toxic material by the time migratory birds arrive at the end of February, said the program manager of the Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams, which are working for BP and the federal government.
There are 113 miles of Louisiana coastline under active cleanup, with another 55 miles awaiting approval to start the cleanup process, according to SCAT statistics. Teams have finished cleaning almost 72 miles to levels where oil is no longer observable or where no further treatment is necessary.
But that’s not the whole story for the state’s coastline. According to SCAT statistics, there’s another 2,846 miles of beach and wetland areas where oil was once found but is no longer observable or is not treatable.
Gary Hayward, the Newfields Environmental Planning and Compliance contractor who oversees the SCAT program, said that large area will be placed into a new “monitor and maintenance” category, once Louisiana state and local officials agree to the procedures to be used for that category.
“With rare exceptions, most of the marshes still have a bathtub ring that we have all collectively decided we aren’t going to clean any more than we already have because we’d be doing more harm to the marshes than the oil is going to be doing to them,” Hayward said.
The cleanup protocols for each state have been approved by state and local governments, federal agencies and BP, he said.
Patrick Semansky, The Associated Press
Louisiana’s senior coastal official says the state is monitoring the cleanup, and remains concerned with end-of-year conclusions that the cleanup is almost complete.
“The reality is we still have hundreds of miles of oiled shoreline today,” said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “We still have oilings on a regular basis in areas of Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish, and there’s still a lot of oil buried back in the marshes where it was carried during high water events.
“The threat is absolutely still there and the oil is absolutely still there,” he said.
‘We know we’re not done’
Hayward does not disagree.
“We know we’re not done. We’re still working,” he said. “We have some challenges ahead of us, including winter weather that will slow us down a bit. But we’ve made a lot of progress.”
At the height of the oil recovery and cleanup effort over the summer, the response program included 48,200 workers and 9,700 vessels. As of Dec. 23, there were still 6,170 workers and 260 vessels, although not all of those are participating in the cleanup.
Patrick Semansky, The Associated Press
Hayward said that the aim is for the cleanup to evolve into a long-term monitoring program for both beaches and marshes by the end of April all along the coast, but that could depend on shoreline re-evaluations scheduled for April and May.
“We’ll be assisted by very low tides in April and May, where we can really see how things have worked out in the winter,” he said.
The biggest remaining problem in Louisiana, Hayward said, is a large area of marsh along the shores of Bay Jimmy in northernmost Barataria Bay, west of Port Sulphur, that was fouled when storm surge from Hurricane Alex in late June pushed oil into the bay system, even though Alex went ashore near the Mexico-Texas border.
“There was enough high water in the tide surge and enough oil on top of the water that it came down on the marsh surface and flattened the grass along a 40- or 50-foot swath along the marsh front,” he said. “And when it did that, it pushed the grass over and left an oily mat on the surface. That has since dried and has become a very crusty surface, underneath which there is still gooey oil.”
Cleanup contractors have tried several methods over the past few months to remove that oil.
“We tried burning and that didn’t work,” Hayward said. “We tried various methods of cutting the marsh and raking the black tarry mat up, and met with some success. We’ve tried four different ways to cut the marsh and let the young sprouts come through.
“But oddly, what we saw was that even though that marsh was quite heavily impacted, before the growing season stopped, the marsh sprouts were coming up through that stuff,” he said. “So we feel pretty confident that even though it looks like hell, that area will recover in the spring when things start to green up again.”
February target date
The target date of February is aimed at removing the threat of oil from areas along Louisiana’s shoreline by the time migratory birds return to roost or rest on their way from Central and South America in the spring, Hayward said. The hope is also to assure clean beaches in advance of the tourist season on Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, left, who hasn’t had much sleep in the past week, listens to BP 1st Global Properties Director Dave Kinnaird while he addresses the shrimpers and residents of Plaquemine Parish who gather to volunteer and learn how to use booms during a training session at old Boothville/Venice School in Boothville, LA., Friday April 30, 2010. According to the U. S. Coast Guard, oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that exploded and sank over a week ago has reached Louisiana land in the Mississippi Delta Friday.
The 3,086 miles of targeted coastline in Louisiana, which makes up the SCAT western district, dwarfs the 1,598 miles of mostly beaches targeted for clean-up in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which comprise the eastern district. Hayward said cleanup efforts also are aimed at February completion in those states.
“There’s a lot of pressure to get it done because of the loss of the last tourist season, and they want to get open for the winter months and they want to get open for spring breakers,” he said.
Unlike Louisiana’s rough texture beaches, a mix of sand, Mississippi River sediment and organic material, beaches to the east, especially along the Florida Panhandle, are a sugary, powdery white sand that’s more difficult to separate from the weathered remains from the BP spill.
“It’s really not oil. It’s not sticky, it’s not tacky, it’s basically a very crumbly, weathered oil residue,” Hayward said. “You can pick it up in your fingers and crumble it and it will just disintegrate.”
Mats of weathered oil
However, the cleanup plan is still struggling with tar balls and other material washing ashore from mats of weathered oil that are located in the surf zone just off several key beach areas, including Pensacola, Fla.; Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge at Gulf Shores, Ala.; and the barrier islands off Mississippi’s coast. Officials are concerned submerged tar mats may also be the source of tar balls that continue to be spotted along Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.
“People are concerned about the chunk of oil that they can’t find counted” in the federal description of how much oil remains in the Gulf of Mexico, Hayward said, and the tar mats explain a small part of the missing oil.
“These tar mats can be three or four or five yards wide and a couple hundred meters long, and they’re discontinuous,” he said. “They’re being found in 2 or 3 feet of water, just below the low-tide line.”
“These are areas where tar balls keep washing ashore,” Hayward said. “The shallow water (where the tar mats are believed to be located) precludes a lot of vessel activity. It’s a very turbulent area.”
Mark Schleifstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3327.