GULFPORT, Mississippi — BP’s chief of operations for the Gulf cleanup, Mike Utsler, has been on the job since the first days of the spill. He’s shifted it from a major effort in the summer and fall to pulling back as oil residue washing ashore has diminished each month since the winter.
Utsler told the Sun Herald on Thursday the last of the focus for cleanup is 550 acres of marsh in Louisiana and the barrier islands, which include the Gulf Islands National Seashore off the Mississippi Coast.
Bird-nesting season poses a problem in both those areas, and their sensitive marsh grasses can be damaged by foot traffic.
Also a cleanup problem is thick tar mats off the shore of the barrier islands from Florida to Alabama. Twenty to 100 feet in length, the mats rest on the near-shore bottoms, but they’re too far out to reach from shore.
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Utsler estimates 30 have been identified and documented. Some are not visible, buried under sand, he said.
“We’ll continue to test technology to find and remove them,” he said.
The risk is the mats will break apart and come ashore over time. But he stresses that though some observers describe the mats as looking like road-paving asphalt, he’s finding they are weathered oil mixed with sand and likely not harmful to animals or humans.
Figures BP released this week: Total of $17.7 billion spent on well shutoff, cleanup and partial financial restoration to the region; 34.7 million gallons of oil and water mix recovered; 11.1 million gallons of oil burned and 92,800 tons of tar balls, oily solids, oiled material and vegetation and oiled protective clothing collected.
Utsler said BP will stay until the Gulf is cleaned to pre-spill conditions, but he said he doesn’t see workers here five years from now, based on the current level of cleanup.
Utsler said independent scientists are not finding oil in the sediment of the Gulf, except within two miles of the wellhead.
He said dispersant has since August been below detectable levels and below background levels.
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