Karen pushes more oily debris onto La. beaches

Even though Tropical Storm Karen was blown apart by upper level winds before it could reach the Gulf Coast, the storm did push hundreds of pounds of oily debris ashore.

Contractors picked up about 512 pounds of tar balls and 379 pounds of oiled debris off almost 15 miles of Louisiana beaches this week in a cleanup effort in the wake of Tropical Storm Karen.

Although the storm didn’t rise to the criteria used to trigger a post-storm assessment of the beaches, the Coast Guard’s federal on-scene coordinator decided it was important to get people on the beaches looking for any washed up oil, said Petty Officer Michael Anderson, public information officer with the U.S. Coast Guard Gulf Coast Incident Management Team.

The formal assessments started Monday afternoon when contractors picked up about 33 pounds of oily material off Elmer’s Island and about 23 pounds of oily material off Grand Isle after the stormy water helped bring debris to beach areas of southern Louisiana.

Contractors’ most productive day on the beaches was Tuesday when they picked up 234 pounds from Port Fourchon beach most of which was oily debris, 38 pounds from Elmer’s Island, 38 pounds from Grand Terre 1, 60 pounds from Grand Terre 2 and 16 pounds from Grand Isle.

Wednesday’s pick up was just over 99 pounds of primarily tar balls from Grand Isle with some of that coming from an area where a number of tar balls had collected into a single area. There was also some darker sand in the area of this tar ball collection, but scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined it was black river sand and not oil.

The amounts decreased over the week and by Thursday, contractors ended up picking up 6 pounds of oily material on Grand Isle. Workers returned to the beaches on Friday and will go back to the area over the weekend to make sure all of the tar balls had been removed, Anderson said.

Anderson said that it’s important to remember that only 10 to 20 percent of the tar ball material they pick up is oil with the rest of the weight made up of sand, shell or other material. And, he said, this is not liquid oil, but instead is weathered and in tar ball form.

In addition to looking at areas that were still in the cleanup response, Anderson said crews also looked at areas that were previously deemed cleaned as well. As of Friday afternoon, he said he hadn’t heard of any of those areas needing cleanup.

The efforts this week also involved state and Coast Guard inspections of two types of coastal landscape. The first included areas where residual oil was left in place because it was determined that it would do more harm than good to remove the oil, Anderson said. Those areas were primarily in the Barataria Bay area where oil had gotten into marsh. So far, he said, there weren’t any areas that were found to need cleaning.

The state and Coast Guard also inspected beaches that had seen repeated oiling in the past or had other issues such as being a collection spot for tar balls, to see if any cleanup was needed.

“We have made significant progress cleaning the shoreline over the last three years, and the low amounts of material that we have seen thus far are a result of the exhaustive effort to locate and remove residual oil from Grand Isle and other shoreline areas in Louisiana,” Jason Ryan, spokesman for BP, wrote in an emailed statement.

Garret Graves, director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, sent an email that said, “Due to the weakening of the storm, we were not anticipating finding anything beyond the type of re-oiling that we’ve seen for the past 3.5 years; however, reports indicate a clear increase in new oil and mats.”

The cleanup work will get a new boost over the next few months with better low tides for contractors on the beaches looking for and picking up tar balls, Anderson said.

“We’re going to be out there looking at it hard over the next couple months where we don’t have nesting birds and we have low tides in the winter months,” Anderson said.