Louisiana Jindals Berms
Louisiana Builds Barriers Even as Oil Disperses
By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF
Three months after BP capped its runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico, the state of Louisiana is still building a chain of sand berms off its coast to block and capture oil even as federal officials and many scientists argue that the effort will prove pointless.
Since early June, a series of low-lying islands stretching about 10 miles have been constructed several miles from the coastline by hundreds of workers with sand dredged from gulf waters.
Gov. Bobby Jindal made the sand berms a signature element of his response to the oil spill last spring, exhorting federal officials to approve the project, and BP to foot the bill. So far the oil company has dispersed $240 million of a promised $360 million to the state.
Yet many scientists say the remaining oil from the spill, the largest in United States history, is far too dispersed to be blocked or captured by large sand structures.
“It certainly would have no impact on the diluted oil, which is what we’re talking about now,” said Larry McKinney, who heads the Gulf of Mexico research center at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. “The probability of their being effective right now is pretty low.”
So far, the berms have captured only 1,000 barrels of oil, according to official estimates, compared with the nearly five million barrels believed to have spewed from the BP well over all. By contrast, more than 800,000 barrels of oil were captured by BP at the wellhead, and roughly 270,000 barrels of oil were burned off by Coast Guard vessels offshore. Skimming operations, meanwhile, recovered at least 34 million gallons of oil-water mixture.
Ron Morris, a former Coast Guard captain and general manager of an oil spill response company on Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, called the berms’ 1,000 barrels a paltry amount.
“That’s not an awful lot of oil in the grand scheme of things,” said Mr. Morris, whose company sent 44 workers to the gulf to assist in the response effort and cleanup. “It probably wasn’t worth the dollars that they put into it.”
“I think that the threat is still there,” said Garret Graves, director of the Louisiana Office of Coastal Activities and leader of the sand berm project. “This is a key component to the oil protection efforts.”
Some political analysts in Louisiana suggest that abandoning the berm project far short of completion could mar the public’s largely positive perception of Mr. Jindal’s handling of the spill, which raised his profile both locally and nationally.
Mr. Jindal’s resolve on the sand barriers “seemed to contrast very sharply with what was seen as a general failure by the Obama administration to act quickly on the spill,” said Brian J. Brox, a professor of political science at Tulane University. “Both this policy and the broader narrative really resonated with a lot of people who were very, very afraid of what was going to happen when all this oil came ashore.”
“I think that stopping short or giving any reason to label this as a failure or incomplete is something that the state would want to avoid,” Professor Brox said.
In late May, at the height of the spill, Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard did authorize the berms as an oil-spill countermeasure and directed BP to pay for them. But since then, the Coast Guard and the unified command, charged with responding to the oil spill under federal law, have had virtually no oversight or involvement in the project.
Rather, the state is proceeding with the permission of the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates offshore engineering projects yet has little oil-spill expertise.
But as the dredging and construction press on, opposition from federal agencies and environmental groups is growing.
Some conservation groups and scientists assert that the project has not only been ineffective but could also threaten wildlife. They warn that the intensive dredging associated with the berms has already killed at least a half-dozen endangered sea turtles and could kill many more.
They have also repeatedly raised concern that further dredging may squander limited sand resources needed for future coastal restoration projects.
“As the summer went on, we became increasingly convinced that the amount of money that was being put into these projects was not worth the benefits,” said Karla Raettig, the national campaign director for coastal Louisiana restoration at the National Wildlife Federation. “It was BP’s money, but perhaps that money could have been better invested elsewhere.”
Some scientists and federal officials suggest that the remaining money allocated for the berms might be better spent on other coastal restoration projects, a move that BP says it would support. The money could be spent, they say, on barrier island restoration, for example, in which dredged sand is used to bolster existing islands, mimicking natural processes.
But state officials are unswayed. “I don’t see a downside to continuing to do this,” Mr. Graves said. “Maybe we’re being too protective of our coast. O.K., accuse me. I don’t have a problem with that.” >Page 2
source: Louisiana Builds Berms in Gulf as Oil Disperses – NYTimes.com