Thursday, June 10, 2010

Booms and berms offer only partial protection from Gulf oil-well blowout

Booms and berms, the main strategies to protect marshes and beaches from the oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, are getting mixed results and may be even less effective as tropical storms enter the gulf, April Reese of Environment & Energy News reports from Venice, La. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

"For weeks, workers have encircled barrier islands in the Mississippi River Delta with floating containment booms -- long, linked sections of PVC fabric -- designed to keep oil from reaching the marshes, with mixed success," Reese notes. "More recently, Louisiana officials are undertaking a new project to construct 6-foot-high sand berms on the seaward side of barrier islands fringing the delta to protect sensitive shorelines, fish nurseries and other wildlife habitat further inland. But with such large volumes of oil spreading through the Gulf -- between 12,000 and 25,000 barrels continue to spew each day from BP PLC's damaged well 50 miles offshore -- many experts doubt whether such efforts will be effective. . . . And last week's beginning of hurricane season only increases the odds of more oil reaching land. . . . Even with hundreds of miles of booms and berms in place, oil will continue to reach land, and experts say there are no clear answers for how best to clean up oil-soaked areas."

"If we have a tropical storm that really starts to break the oil up, we would have to ... prioritize, putting booms in one area but not another," John Anderson, a professor of coastal geology and oceanography at Rice University in Houston, told Reese. "We don't have enough booms to stretch from Louisiana to south Florida. ... "This is a very serious catastrophe, and I don't think even professionals have grasped the sheer magnitude of this event." That's one reason we call it a blowout, not a "spill." (Read more, subscription required)

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