NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Tar balls frequently dot Gulf Coast beaches, five years after the spill.
Earlier this month, just as BP released a report heralding the gulf's recovery, news crews approaching east Grand Terre Island stumbled onto workers mopping up a 30,000 pound tar mat, of BP oil.
"We have to have you stay away from the hazardous material at the moment because it is a cleanup site," a clean-up worker said.
In April of 2010, BP struggled to manage the extreme forces in its well, miles below the gulf surface. Concrete seals put in to stop gas from flowing up the drill pipe failed, as did the blowout preventer on the sea floor and giant gusher of oil and gas rocketed to the surface.
Eleven men died. For 87 days, the well belched millions of gallons of crude, as the world watched.
Since then, the industry has shown off its new oil spill response. The 911 system for offshore drilling, including a brand new capping stack designed to shut off oil spilling from a failed well. Equipment that did not exist on April 20th, 2010.
Last week, the government who is mindful of the anniversary announced tougher for the blow out preventers designed to slam shut on a failing well and prevent explosion. Ironically, the gulf spill produced a gusher of money for coastal restoration and research, nearly five and a half billion dollars so far. With billions more to come depending on the outcome of a federal trial, some of the money has already rebuilt barrier islands. But some places that took on oil will never come back.While it was possible to travel for miles along the coast during the height of the spill and never see oil, crude piled into parts of Barataria Bay steered by winds and currents
Four islands in Cat Bay, once home to thousands of nesting birds virtually vanished. Today, one colony of birds clings to disappearing real estate. BP insists tar mats today simply exist in "pockets" it knows where they are and the government decided it was better to let them become naturally exposed, *then* deal with them.
BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell told CNN earlier this month, "So as they appear, we are finding them and removing them. But none of them poses to human or aquatic life."
Environmentalists argue oil will continue to pile onto beaches for years to come. "However long it goes on, the company is committed to cleaning that which is exposed and that which is Macondo oil," Morrell said.
Last week, the respected Harte Institute in Corpus Christi, Texas praised the gulf's resilience, comparing it to a rubber band snapping back into place after a test of strength. Harte says many of the gulf's most iconic species, crabs, shrimp and oysters show no lasting effects from the spill. That is news to Louisiana's oyster processors, who blame the spill for idling much of their business.The company blames the state's decision to run fresh water diversions wide open in an attempt to push back oil.
Other environmental researchers point to sea turtle populations which had been recovering pre-spill but now show signs of sliding again. Dolphin deaths in Barataria Bay now occur at four times the normal rate. Five years later, the debate rages about the long term effects of America's worst offshore oil disaster.