Environmental

Oil and tar reappears on Gulf beaches after Tropical Storm Lee

When Tropical Storm Lee pummeled the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas over the weekend, it left many coastal residents wondering if there would ever be an end to the BP oil spill. Many residents in coastal areas from Florida to Louisiana found that the storm’s heavy winds and rough surf deposited globs of tar on the beach or exposed oil that had been buried in the sand.

In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, authorities collected tar balls as small as a marble to as big as a baseball and sent them to Auburn University for analysis. One visitor who spent the holiday weekend in Gulf Shores told the Times Daily that she had to scrub the oil and tar off her feet whenever she went for a walk on the beach.

Grant Brown, a spokesman for Gulf Shores, told the Times Daily that the beaches aren’t as polluted with oil as they had been during the peak of the BP oil spill but that it was still significant.

“It confirms our fear that there are tar mats just offshore and that we may have more tar coming in whenever there’s a storm,” he told the Times Daily.

BP crews planned to return to the beaches in and around Pensacola, Florida to resume cleanup work after heavy winds uncovered oil that has been buried in the sand there. The Pensacola News Journal reported that tar balls also continue to wash up ashore there.

Seashore Superintendent Dan Brown told the News Journal that the angular shape of the tar balls washing ashore in Pensacola is solid evidence that tar mats still linger in the surf because they get their shape as they break off from larger mats. Chunks of tar that break off and roll around in the surf a long time are more round, hence the description “tar balls.” Mr. Brown theorized that storms like Lee could expedite cleanup by breaking up the tar mats and washing them ashore, where they can be more easily cleaned up.

It was the same story along Mississippi’s beaches, which once again found themselves covered with oil and tar. According to All Headline News, “The area, recovering from the BP oil spill of 2010, and Katrina in 2005, had been urging people to visit and see how far they had come.

“It may be that they have a way yet to go. In addition to heavy winds and rain, tropical storm Lee washed up, uncovered and exposed tar balls on several Gulf Coast beaches. Looks like BP still has some explaining to do.”

Sources:

Tropical storm Lee blows away Labor Day tourism and washes up tar balls on U.S. Gulf coast
Tar balls on Alabama beaches to be tested
Digging for oil