Nearly six months after Deepwater Horizon explosion, cleanup continues

10/13/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Next week marks six months since the blowout at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The well is dead … the Obama Administration lifted its ban on deepwater drilling … but the story is far from over.

For those who watched the disaster unfold in what seemed like slow motion, it may feel like years since those initial reports of an explosion that killed eleven rig workers in the Gulf. At times, it almost seemed like a suspense flick. But the narrative arc of the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history doesn’t wrap up so easily. At an event in Tampa today, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal recalls what it was like in the immediate wake of the disaster.

Sam Walker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says this wasn’t the typical oil spill.

He adds that the cleanup effort will go on for months.

Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, says the Gulf beaches still need a serious scrubbing.

He adds that the Louisiana marshlands are in critical condition and requires the bulk of the cleanup’s 16,000 workers.

Not to mention what’s in the water. Researchers say unprecedented use of oil dispersants compounded the gusher’s impacts in the Gulf marine environment by causing massive invisible plumes of weathered oil to form in the water column. Walker says this is another thing the cleanup effort is targeting.

Then there’s the economic impact. In the initial days of the disaster, a significant portion of the Gulf was closed to commercial fishing. Reports of oil’s impact on the marine food chain varied widely, but Zukunft says tens of thousands of square miles of Gulf waters have now been reopened.

He says sampled of edible marine life have been subjected to a literal “smell test”

Zukunft says only a minuscule portion of the seafood they’ve sampled hasn’t passed the test.

Earlier this week the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released a report suggesting that a dead zone occurring annually near Louisiana’s Chandeleur Sound may have been made worse by the response effort. John Lopez, director of that organization's Coastal Sustainability Program, says the diversion of a river to reduce shore impacts might have caused low oxygen zones, thereby possibly contributing to a dead zone in the region. But NOAA Scientific Coordinator Steve Lehman says there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary here.

Nearly six months on, the oil disaster has mostly faded into the 24-hour news cycle background. Yet investigations into what happened before and after the well blowout continue, as do efforts to reverse the massive environmental and economic damage the disaster has caused. As the federal government lifts its moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, environmentalists wonder if the BP calamity taught anybody anything.

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