BP Oil Washes Up on Louisiana’s Wildlife Refuge Islands

BP Oil Washes Up on Louisiana’s Wildlife Refuge Islands

HOUMA, Louisiana, May 6, 2010 (ENS) – Emulsified orange oil today washed up on the northernmost island in the Chandeleur and Breton Island chain, in one of the earliest signs that oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill has touched land along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Breton Island and all of the Chandeleur Islands in St. Bernard and Plaquemine Parish, Louisiana are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1904, Breton NWR is now a nesting site for the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican, just removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List last year.

Oil was seen at several other places along the islands on Wednesday by two teams of scientists who flew over the area, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association scientist Jacqui Michel told reporters during a teleconference today.

“That’s the only shoreline oiling that we have been able to find,” said Michel. “It is pretty amazing that we’ve had the oil in the water for this long a period of time and so little shoreline oiling.”

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry told reporters today, “We are starting to see the first impact of oil in the Chandaleur Islands. This is a very serious spill, she said, but there is a very committed effort to work together to stop the flow of oil and mitigate the damage.”

“We have sent a crew of 22 with clean-up materials and absorbent boom,” to the Chandeleur Islands, St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro said in a statement. He says the parish has not been provided with enough oil containment boom material to keep oil off vulnerable areas like the Chandaleur Islands.

Two dead gannets covered in oil found were near the Grand Gosier Islands off of Plaquemines Parish. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries)

Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement agents discovered two dead gannets, possibly killed by the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill, on Wednesday. Gannets are large seabirds commonly found in Louisiana’s coastal areas.

A determination has not been made on the cause of the birds’ deaths, but agents confirmed that the birds were covered in oil when found near the Grand Gosier Islands off of Plaquemines Parish.

The agents gave the birds to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel in Venice, Louisiana who will be responsible for determining the cause of the deaths.

In Houston, Texas tonight Interior Secretary Salazar announced that new approvals for offshore oil drilling will be halted for three weeks until the Department of the Interior completes the safety review process requested by President Barack Obama. The department must deliver its report to the President by May 28.

The only exceptions to the new rule regarding permit approvals are the two relief wells that are being drilled in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In addition, Minerals Management Service Director Liz Birnbaum sent a letter today to Shell Oil Company President Marvin Odum confirming that MMS will not make a final decision on the requested permits for the drilling of exploration wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic until the Department of the Interior’s report to the President has been submitted and evaluated.

Research by the Center for Biological Diversity research and the Washington Post expose have shown that the Minerals Management Service approved BP’s drilling plan without any environmental review.

Ship travels through oil leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo by Daniel Beltra courtesy Greenpeace)

The agency “categorically excluded” BP’s drilling, and hundreds of other offshore drilling permits, from environmental review using a loophole in the National Environmental Policy Act created for minimally intrusive actions.

“The three week time out is welcome news,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, “but it is too little, too late. We need a permanent, nationwide moratorium on all new offshore oil drilling.”

“President Obama should rescind his March, 2010 decision to open up Alaska, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast to dangerous, uncontrollable offshore oil drilling,” he said

“If BP’s disastrous spill had occurred in the Arctic instead of the Gulf of Mexico, the impact would orders of magnitude worse,” said Suckling, “Salazar should immediate revoke Shell Oil’s faulty permit. If he does not, the Arctic will be at risk of a massive oil spill as soon as this summer.”

“This spill spells disaster for birds in this region and beyond,” said George Fenwick, president of the nonprofit American Bird Conservancy. “The complexity of the Gulf coastline, with numerous bays, estuaries, inlets, marshes and creeks, will make cleanup extremely difficult. Impacts could last for decades for much of the habitat, and some species may suffer significant long-term population declines.”

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is fed by oil gushing at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day from a broken wellhead on the sea floor about 51 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana.

The pipe was left uncapped by the fiery explosion aboard the oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 2O in which 11 crewmembers lost their lives. The rig sank on April 22 and is now lying on the sea floor about 1,300 feet from the wellhead. The rig is owned by the Swiss company Transocean and was leased by BP Exploration and Production, the party responsible for stopping the flow of oil and clean up the damage.

BP is using skimmers, controlled burns and chemical dispersants in an attempt to control the oil spill. On Wednesday the company deployed a 40 foot-tall containment dome to the site and plans to maneuver it over the wellhead with remotely operate subs. Then pipes will be lowered to direct the flow of oil up to a drillship on the surface. If all goes according to plan this system could be operational by Monday.

BP also plans to send material down the pipes to plug the well, stopping most of the oil from spilling into the gulf. The company must also deal with a second, smaller leak in the piping from the sunken rig now strewn across the seafloor.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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