Louisiana marshes hit by Gulf oil slick

Last Updated: Friday, May 21, 2010 - 12:34

Louisiana: Crude oozed into US wetlands, prompting furious Louisiana officials to accuse BP of destroying fragile marshes beyond repair and leaving coastal fishing communities in ruin.

With some of the worst fears of environmental disaster being realized in the marshlands of the Mississippi Delta, BP was also forced to concede it had underestimated the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

The British energy giant had always maintained only 5,000 barrels -- or 210,000 gallons -- of crude was gushing each day from a pipe ruptured when its Deepwater Horizon rig exploded one month ago and sank.

But BP spokesman Mark Proegler said Thursday that this amount was already being siphoned away from the leak by its mile-long insertion tube device and live television pictures showed a significant quantity still streaming out.

"Now that we are collecting 5,000 barrels a day, it might be a little more than that," he told a news agency.

Independent experts have warned the flow could be at least 10 times higher.

With thick patches of oil now flooding over coastal Louisiana marshes, a haven for migratory birds and rare wildlife that will be nigh-on impossible to clear up, local leaders were starting to despair.

"Twenty-four miles of Plaquemines Parish is destroyed. Everything in it is dead," Billy Nungesser, head of the parish in southern Louisiana, told US cable news station MSNBC. "There is no life in that marsh. You won`t clean it up."

"We`ve been begging BP to step up to the plate," said Nungesser. The slick is "destroying our marsh, inch by inch," and will keep on coming ashore for weeks and months, he said.

An increasingly desperate BP says a "top kill" operation to try to cap the leak for good by filling the well with heavy drilling fluids and then seal it with cement could begin as early as Sunday.

But for Louisiana`s fragile wetlands the measure may come too late.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been on a personal crusade in recent weeks to force the US government and BP to build sand islands to protect the shoreline and fragile island nature reserves.

"It is clear from what we saw on Fourchon Beach and Thunder Bayou today that the oil is here. It is in our marsh, like we saw yesterday in Pass a Loutre, and it is on our shores," Jindal said, after flying over those stricken areas.

"This oil has travelled 110 miles to land on our coast and we are very concerned that this is just the beginning," he said, fearing it could be too late to save 60,000 jobs in Louisiana`s three-billion-dollar fishing industry.

"Louisiana produces nearly one-third of the seafood for the continental US and 70 percent of the seafood production in the Gulf of Mexico comes from Louisiana fishers, shrimpers and oyster harvesters," he said.

"This is why we have repeatedly said that this spill fundamentally threatens Louisiana`s way of life. The oil is here, but we are still waiting on the US Army Corps of Engineers to approve our sand boom plan to help keep oil out of our marshes and off of our shores."

It is not just Louisiana that fears the worst from the giant slick. Neighboring Alabama and Mississippi have already been affected and Florida`s tourist beaches and coral reefs could be next.

Bureau Repo

First Published: Friday, May 21, 2010 - 12:34

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