BP's well sealed, but oil disaster continues in the Gulf


BP successfully killed its leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend, installing cement plugs that halted the flow of pollution into the ocean.

"Additional regulatory steps will be undertaken but we can now state, definitively, that the Macondo well poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico," said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen.

However, the region continues to suffer the catastrophic effects of the 200 million gallon oil spill, which began when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.

In some areas of the Louisiana coast, oil began washing ashore just weeks after the disaster and continued into this month. Forrest Travirca, a field inspector for a property owner on Fourchon Beach in Plaquemines Parish, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that there's so much oil in some of the sands that when they heat up the oil bubbles to the surface.

"That's one reason the cleanup crews have to wear those [protective] shoes," he said. "They're literally walking on oil sometimes."

Recent weeks have brought several massive fish kills along the Louisiana coast, with thousands of fish seen floating on the surface of Bayou Chaland last week. So many dead fish covered the water that photos of the scene resembled a gravel road. That kill followed another mass kill of starfish in nearby Barataria Bay.

Louisiana state officials have blamed the kills on low oxygen levels in the water, a perpetual problem in that area of coastal Louisiana, but environmentalists say more testing should be done to determine the role that oil and chemical dispersants played in the die-off. They also point to the discovery of a dead baby sperm whale near Louisiana's Southwest Pass -- the second whale found dead in the oil spill impact zone. The whale deaths can't be blamed on low oxygen levels since whales don't breathe underwater.

Louisiana is not the only state suffering ongoing impacts from the disaster, either. Tar balls cover Horn Island off the coast of Mississippi, while oil continues to wash ashore in Alabama coastal communities including Coden and Bayou La Batre.

Fishermen in the region report shrimp catches are down, and there are also reports of oiled shrimp and crabs being caught in some areas, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Over Labor Day weekend, the Perdido Bay Mullet Festival in Lillian, Ala. had to substitute catfish for mullet for the first time because the supplier had concerns about white spots found on some of the fish.

 "Mullet feed off the bottom and we don't know what's been down there," a spokesperson for Wallace Seafood told Truthout.

The revelations about contamination affecting seafood comes as BP is ending the Vessels of Opportunity Program that has provided income for local fishermen during the disaster. With ongoing concerns about the safety of Gulf seafood, many fishermen are worried about what the future holds for them.

"They poisoned our fish, they cut our paychecks and they've destroyed our way of life," a veteran fisherman told NRDC. "The oil companies down here will survive. But what will happen to us?"

Adm. Allen has promised that the disaster response will continue "as long as it takes to get the marshes and the beaches clean" -- but he acknowledged that at some point officials may decide they've done all they can.

(Photo of oiled marshlands from the Natural Resources Defense Council.)