With attention shifting from containment of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to dealing with its potentially severe consequences, the disaster response command said this week that it was “extremely concerned” about the ongoing short- and long-term impacts to the Gulf ecosystem. The comments were made even as lawsuits mounted against BP, held responsible for the spill, and indications of another oil spill in the Gulf emerged.
During a media interaction, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officer Jane Lubchenco said that the long term impacts of oil were different for different populations and portions of the Gulf and it would take time and continued monitoring and research to fully understand the damages and impacts of the spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.
Dr. Lubchenco added that satellite imagery had indicated that surface oil was continuing to break up into smaller scattered patches of light sheens, containing little recoverable oil. She said that as that break-up continued, NOAA responders were working to develop monitoring strategies for tar balls and near shore submerged oil.
The NOAA administrator however expressed cautious optimism regarding the spread of the oil at surface level, noting that with the ruptured well shut 12 days, “oil reaching shorelines continues to decrease”. She cautioned that less oil on the surface did not imply there were not larger amounts of oil beneath the surface or that the beaches and marshes along the coast were not still at risk.
Meanwhile media reports suggested that over 300 civil lawsuits had been filed against BP, mostly by individuals and small businesses that were reliant on the coastline for their livelihoods. One report said, “The complainants range from business owners to deck hands and include people as far away as South Carolina and even landlocked Tennessee and Kentucky,” adding that among those suing BP were the workers injured in the April 20 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig and the families of the 11 men who were killed.
Possible damage to another well
Even as BP finally succeeded in containing the oil gushing out of the ruptured wellhead through a “capping stack” nearly two weeks ago, reports also surfaced of another incident involving possible damage to a well in the Gulf of Mexico.
Explaining the incident to media National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen said, it appeared that an uninspected towing vessel was pushing a barge in the waterway that connecting Mud Bay to Lafitte. He said, “They reportedly collided with an oil and natural gas platform and number C177, there is a light sheen around the platform at this time,” adding that there was also some vapour emanating from the site.
By way of immediate response, the Admiral said, they had deployed 6,000 foot of boom around the incident location and a “helicopter over-flight is being conducted with Admiral Zukunft our local unified area commander and Governor [of Louisiana, Bobby] Jindal”. Admiral Allen said his team would continue to monitor this second possible leak.