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Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes: Dallas Texas Oil Spill Recovery Team-Update 4

Oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico unabated Saturday, and officials conveyed little hope that the flow could be contained soon, forcing towns along the Gulf Coast to brace for what is increasingly understood to be an imminent environmental disaster.

The spill, emanating from a pipe 50 miles offshore and 5,000 feet underwater, was creeping into Louisiana’s fragile coastal wetlands as strong winds and rough waters hampered cleanup efforts. Officials said the oil could hit the shores of Mississippi and Alabama as soon as Monday.

The White House announced that President Obama would visit the region on Sunday morning.

Read the full New York Times story here.

The imperiled marshes that buffer New Orleans and the rest of the state from the worst storm surges are facing a sea of sweet crude oil, orange as rust. The most recent estimate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20 and sank days later, was gushing as much as 210,000 gallons of crude into the gulf each day. Concern is mounting that the flow may soon grow to several times that amount.

The wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta have been losing about 24 square miles a year, deprived of sediment replenishment by levees in the river, divided by channels cut by oil companies and poisoned by farm runoff from upriver. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita took large, vicious bites.

The questions that haunt this region are how much more can the wetlands take and does their degradation spell doom for an increasingly defenseless southern Louisiana?
Many variables will dictate just how devastating this slick will ultimately be to the ecosystem, including whether it takes days or months to seal the leaking oil well and whether winds keep blowing the oil ashore. But what is terrifying everyone from bird watchers to the state officials charged with rebuilding the natural protections of this coast is that it now seems possible that a massive influx of oil could overwhelm and kill off the grasses that knit the ecosystem together.

To an untrained eye, the vast expanses of grass leading into Terrebonne Bay, about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, look vigorous. Locals use boats as cars here, trawling though the marsh for shrimp or casting for plentiful redfish. Out on the water, the air smells like salt — not oil — and seabirds abound and a dolphin makes a swift appearance.

But it is what is not visible that is scary, said Alexander Kolker, a professor of coastal and wetland science at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Piloting a craft through the inland waterways, he pointed out that islands that recently dotted the bay and are still found on local navigation maps are gone. Also gone are the freshwater alligators that gave the nearby town Cocodrie its name — French settlers thought they were crocodiles.

All evidence, he says, is that this land is quickly settling into the salt ocean.

Levees holding back the Mississippi River have prevented natural land replenishment from floods. Navigation channels and pipeline canals have brought saltwater into fragile freshwater marshes, slowly killing them, and the sloshing of waves in boats’ wakes has eroded natural banks.

A federal judge has affirmed the necessity of robust wetlands for the city of New Orleans, finding last fall that the degradation of wetlands and natural levee banks by the federal government’s negligent maintenance of a navigation channel had created a path for Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge right up to the city.

Oil is likely to take similar open pathways into the marsh. For this reason, the state’s approach to fighting the oil slick is the same as its approach to creating a heartier and more storm-surge-resistant marshland: it is diverting the Mississippi River and its healthy load of sediment to counter a potential influx of oil and strengthen vegetation.

Normally, these grasses have great resiliency. They are similar to a lawn, said Irving A. Mendelssohn, a professor at Louisiana State University who has done studies oil’s effect on the local ecology. If they are damaged only above the ground, they will grow back swiftly. But if the roots die, the plant dies and the ground underneath it sinks into the sea within a year.

A coating with a sheen of oil would do little harm, Dr. Mendelssohn said. But, he said, “if you have oil coming in consistently, the cumulative effect could be severe. If the plants keep getting reoiled, you get a smothering effect. The vegetation could no longer do photosynthesis, and then it can’t sustain itself.”
If the volume of oil does not increase drastically, it is likely to ooze down the saltwater channels, hemmed in by grasses. But then there is the potential nightmare of a tropical storm, even a low-level one, with a surge of several feet that sends oil far into the freshwater marshes, which are more fragile and almost impossible to clean.

If you or a family member has been injured because of the fault of someone else; by negligence, personal injury, slip and fall, car accident, medical malpractice, trucking accident, drunk driving, dangerous drugs, bad product, toxic injury etc then please contact the Dallas Texas Toxic Injury Attorney Dr. Shezad Malik. For a no obligation, free case analysis, please call 888-210-9693 or Contact Me Online.

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