The wind and waves of Tropical Storm Lee ate away at the shore of Fourchon Beach Labor Day weekend and left a miles-long stretch littered with tar balls and cleanup equipment abandoned after last year’s BP spill.
BP has reactivated cleanup on the island, sending 90 cleanup workers to the beach for the next 30 days with directions to remove the oil and debris.
Forrest Travirca, a field inspector for the Edward Wisner Donation, a private land trust that owns about 9.5 miles of Fourchon Beach, estimates about eight miles of trust-owned beach were affected.
“I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it was a whole hell of a lot of oil,” said Travirca, who discovered the oil Sept. 4 while surveying the beach for tropical storm damage.
Pictures provided by Travirca show large chunks of oil littering the beach. The chunks, too large to be considered tar balls, are described as tar mats.
The storm also caused extreme erosion to the beach, Travirca said. At Belle Pass, all of the sand washed away, leaving just the hard clay beneath. Cleanup work interfered with the natural compaction of the beach, increasing the risk of erosion in spots where workers dug holes to unearth oil and left loose, sifted sand in its place, Travirca said.
Curtis Thomas, a BP spokesman, said the storm eroded about 2-3 feet of sandy shoreline and uncovered oil hiding underneath new sand. PVC pipes used to secure boom and snares used to absorb oil were also uncovered.
Six task forces, made up of a combined 90 workers and 17 technicians, will work a seven-day-a-week schedule to clean the beach, Thomas said.
The cleanup will start within the week, he added.
Tar balls were reported on other area beaches, Thomas said, but not to the extent that they appeared on Fourchon Beach.
Thomas said the reemergence of oil was not unexpected.
“We knew this was coming,” Thomas said. “That’s why we’ve had this manpower on standby.”
Officials with the Wisner Land Trust have complained that the cleanup on Fourchon was insufficient, leaving the beach superficially clean.
Travirca took a Courier and Comet reporter and photographer on a tour of Fourchon Beach a year after the BP spill started. He showed them significant quantities of pungent, black oil just below the sand.
Thomas said cleanup guidelines dictate how deep they can dig on the beach to recover oil.
The storm “has given us the opportunity to come in and remove this oil,” Thomas said.
Kerry St. Pé, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, said that as spilled oil degrades and works its way on shore, it will combine with sand, becoming heavier. The oil-sand mix will eventually make it to shore or get buried in the surf, where it remains until rough weather stirs it up.
The degraded oil is not as toxic as fresh oil, but it still has some toxicity, St. Pé said. Buried oil doesn’t degrade as fast as oil that is exposed to oxygen and sunlight, so it may retain toxic components longer.
St. Pé said that it’s likely we’ll continue to see remnants of the BP spill on Louisiana beaches as old oil is unearthed and makes its way to shore.
“We’ve had a heck of a lot of movement in the bottom sediments with Lee, so the next storm or hurricane is going to bring oil onto beaches, but it will be less and less,” St. Pe’ said. “The BP spill was an extremely large oil spill, so we’ll be seeing this for a long time.
Source: BP oil washed up on Fourchon