Although state and local officials have been concerned since 2010 that a strong hurricane could pick up Deepwater Horizon oil that may have settled on water bottoms along the coast and move it into wetlands or beaches, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that isn’t a significant threat from Hurricane Isaac.
“From Katrina, we learned that oil released during the storm was widely dispersed with little impact. The main oil pollution occurred after the passage of the storm, when oil released from tank farms and pipelines spread out and contaminated adjacent habitats,” Frank Csulak, scientific support coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon Emergency Response, wrote in an email.
He added, “We don’t think that the small amount of subsurface oil remaining in the nearshore habitats off Gulf beaches poses any significant threat because it would be mobilized during the high-energy wind/wave events. There is even less or minimal amounts of oil offshore marshes.”
As of Friday afternoon many of the beaches and marshes in the state were not accessible because of flooding, rough weather or because many parishes are going through recovery from Hurricane Isaac.
Ensign Glenn Sanchez, U.S. Coast Guard public information officer for the Deepwater Horizon, said there have been no reports of oil being spotted along Louisiana’s coastal areas. However, he noted that Louisiana hasn’t been cleared to let teams go out and investigate the coastline for possible oiling yet.
Charlotte Randolph, Lafourche Parish President, said no one has been able to access the beach yet to see if there is any re-oiling or if any oil that may have been buried under sand had been exposed by the storm.
It isn’t only local and state officials who are curious about possible storm impacts on any remaining oil.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. sent letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NOAA Friday asking for information about possible impacts.
“As Hurricane Isaac barreled into the Gulf of Mexico with 100 mile-per-hour wind, it was estimated that as much as one million barrels of oil buried in the Gulf of Mexico sediment since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster would be stirred up and mixed into the waters of the Gulf,” he wrote. “As emergency responders deal with the impacts of this storm on land, I am writing to understand the plans the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has to deal with the impacts the BP oil will have on the beaches and marshlands.”
Csulak, with NOAA, said that Hurricane Isaac was a high energy event that would disperse any remaining oil rather than cause significant re-oiling of the coast.
“There may be some re-deposition of oil/sand mixtures (we call them Surface Residue Balls, not Tarballs because they are mostly sand) on the beaches as they re-build after the storm for the next few weeks. But, we also expect these amounts of oil re-deposition to be small,” Csulak wrote. “We think that there is little risk of significant re-oiling of shorelines” from residual Deepwater Horizon oil.