Finding oil in the marsh, 3 years after BP spill

Published: Apr. 18, 2013 at 11:48 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2013 at 12:23 AM CDT
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Marsh grass stained with oil 3 years after the BP oil spill
Marsh grass stained with oil 3 years after the BP oil spill

Barataria Bay, La. — Three years after the Gulf oil disaster, Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Management Director P.J. Hahn knows where to find oil.

Hahn pulls up marsh grass in Bay Jimmy, revealing the oil-covered roots.

In some sensitive spots along the coastline, officials chose to leave the oil untouched rather than risk doing further harm to the fragile coastline by trampling it with heavy equipment.

"That was our biggest concern during the oil spill, keeping it out of the marsh," Hahn said.

For the most part, there are few signs of the oil that once stained hundreds of miles of Louisiana's shores.  However, about 10 miles to the south, Plaquemines Parish leaders believe the spill has produced more dramatic effects.

A pair of islands in Cat Bay -- both roughly four acres on April 20, 2010-- are on the verge of disappearing.

Although the islands were suffering rapid erosion long before BP, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser argues the spill hastened their demise.

"The oil continued to kill it and if we don't move to protect it, the island won't be here next year," Nungesser said.

The islands were heavily oiled in the weeks after the Macondo blowout, piling crude onto sensitive vegetation.

"It's only a matter of time before the soil washes from these roots and we won't be able to stand here next year," Nungesser said.

As the islands became more isolated over the years, they provided a home for pelicans far removed from most predators.

"This will be the first year that the pelicans do not nest on this island and that's heartbreaking," Hahn said.

Nungesser hopes to tap into early restoration money from BP to dredge sediment and pump it back on the island.

"Every day we wait, it becomes more costly and we lose more land," Nungesser said.