Oil and tar from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill is still trapped in the sand along Alabama’s Gulf beaches four and a half years later, a new study by Auburn University researchers has found.
The study may not come as a surprise to the residents of coastal Alabama who frequent the beaches, but it does demonstrate that the oil from the BP disaster is not as quick to degrade as some scientists expected. It’s also another sign that Gulf Coast hasn’t returned to normal the way BP’s television ads have suggested.
Many beachgoers might be surprised to find much of the tar embedded in the sand for miles along the coast is still relatively fresh, with a soft texture and strong petroleum odor.
The Auburn report says that the oil could continue to pose an ecological threat for years to come because the oil and tar lodged in the sand degrades at a much slower rate than petroleum exposed to water and air. The oil and tar still present on Alabama’s beaches have retained heavy hydrocarbon compounds, the study found.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers. The rig, situated about 50 miles off the coast of Venice, La., sank two days later as the result of a blowout from the Macondo well that sat about a mile under the rig on the sea floor. BP technicians failed to contain the deep-sea oil geyser blasting from the well.
BP sealed the well after 87 days but by that time about 206 million gallons of crude oil had flooded the Gulf from Louisiana to Florida. Alabama’s coast was one of the areas hit hard by the monster BP oil spill.
In 2014, BP recovered about 900 pounds of oil-contaminated sand, shells, and other spill-related debris from Alabama’s beaches, responding to residual oil pollution only when chemical testing proved the oil came from the Macondo well, and cleaning up only at the U.S. Coast Guard’s direction.