Marsh oil spill cleanup could be impossible

A Plaquemines Parish employee lays oil absorbent boom as pelicans leave their nests on an island in Barataria Bay, just inside the the coast of Louisiana, Saturday, May 22, 2010. The island is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseated spoonbills and is being impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)A Plaquemines Parish employee lays oil absorbent boom as pelicans leave their nests on an island in Barataria Bay, just inside the the coast of Louisiana, Saturday, May 22, 2010. The island is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseated spoonbills and is being impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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Officials are considering some drastic and risky solutions: They could set the wetlands on fire or flood areas in hopes of floating out the oil.

But they warn an aggressive cleanup could ruin the marshes and do more harm than good. The only viable option for many impacted areas is to do nothing and let nature break down the spill.

More than 50 miles of Louisiana’s delicate shoreline already have been soiled by the massive slick unleashed after BP’s Deepwater Horizon burned and sank last month. Officials fear oil eventually could invade wetlands and beaches from Texas to Florida. Louisiana is expected to be hit hardest.

“Oil in the marshes is the worst-case scenario,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the head of the federal effort to contain and clean up the spill.

Oil that has rolled into shoreline wetlands now coats the stalks and leaves of plants such as roseau cane — the fabric that holds together an ecosystem that is essential to the region’s fishing industry and a much-needed buffer against Gulf hurricanes. Soon, oil will smother those plants and choke off their supply of air and nutrients.

In some eddies and protected inlets, the ochre-colored crude has pooled beneath the water’s surface, forming clumps several inches deep.

With the seafloor leak still gushing hundreds of thousands of gallons a day, the damage is only getting worse. Millions of gallons already have leaked so far.

Coast Guard officials said Saturday the spill’s impact now stretches across a 150-mile swath, from Dauphin Island, Ala. to Grand Isle, La.

Over time, experts say weather and natural microbes will break down most of the oil. However, the crude will surely poison plants and wildlife in the months — even years — it will take for the syrupy muck to dissipate.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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