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Jessica Lass’s Blog

Blood and Oil are Two Things You Don’t Want on Your Hands

Jessica Lass

Posted May 11, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t my brightest idea, but after finding oil for the first time on land at South Pass, my reaction was to reach out and touch it.  It’s not that I didn’t believe the thick globs of oil I was seeing were real, but I wanted to see what the consistency was like and quickly found out.

The stuff I saw immersed and lining at least a foot about the water level all along the reeds of the island felt sticky to the touch. It stained my fingertips red and made my hands sticky until I could properly wash them and also smelled like a gas station, which is probably obvious.

Once finding the oil thickly immersed in the reeds lining the island we went in search of other places the oil might have clung to during high tide. We didn’t have to look far to find pools of the red liquid lingering at the bottom of the island reeds about 10-15 feet inland from the low tide. We saw pools of the oil farther inland and also found the oil in a different consistency in the wet sand. There we found dollops of oil, about the size of a quarter or slightly larger or smaller that had congealed with the surrounding sand. Some of the tar balls that had washed farther into now dry sand were baking in the hot sun and started to liquify and blend farther into the sandy beach, making the oil virtually impossible to ever be removed from that area.

We went on to check out some booms crews had placed as recently as this morning and found the absorbant materials completely stained black from the oil they were attracting only a few feet from the fragile reeds. We saw booms covered in thick, dripping oil that partially clung to the booms and also appeared to be sliding back into the water.

There were a few sightings of dispersed oil in the water near South Pass, but looking in the water you’d never think that such a thick crude-like substance was lurking, just waiting to make contact with the booms like we were seeing.

Photos taken May 10, 2010 by NRDC, click for captions and more photos

Not too far inside the protective barrier of the booms, we saw dozens of gulls frolicing on a sand bar and some were diving outside of the boom barrier. As we headed back to Venice before sundown we continued to take note of the periodically oily-covered booms.

This recent brush with the BP oil spill felt like we were getting closer to seeing much, much more of the spill than we’ve seen in the 10 days we’ve been here and in my personal opinion, while there are crews out trying to fight the spill and place absorbant barriers wherever there appears to be a threat, there are many, many miles of marshland and coastline just in the Venice area alone that remain unprotected. Some of these areas appear to be essential channels for commerce and perhaps the booms would simply get in the way of the cargo ships and Army Corps dredging activities, but there’s marshland all around and no booms in sight in many places that seem like they’ll need the protection soon enough.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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