Gulf of Mexico Suffers New Oily Spills
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, March 22, 2011 (ENS) - An unidentified oily substance began washing ashore on the Louisiana coast on Sunday, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard, with state and local agencies, to conduct clean up and recovery operations of tainted beaches.

The cleanup continued Monday and today along a half mile of shoreline at Elmer Island, Fourchon Beach and Grand Isle.

A source of the oily substance has not yet been identified, and the Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the incident. The Coast Guard confirmed Sunday that oil is not coming from the Deepwater Horizon well that exploded on April 20, 2010, releasing the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The Coast Guard does say that there has been a leak from an oil well that is being plugged, and there could be another source for the contaminated sheen reported by callers to Coast Guard New Orleans.

Oily substance approaches Louisiana shore, March 18, 2011 (Photo by Jerry Moran of Native Orleanian Fine Photography)

"At this point, the dark substance is believed to be caused by a tremendous amount of sediment being carried down the Mississippi River due to high water, possibly further agitated by dredging operations," the Coast Guard said Sunday.

This brown sediment plume carries pesticide and fertilizer runoff, sewage overflows, and oily runoff from streets along the entire Mississippi River Valley.

Whatever the cause, Capt. Jonathan Burton, the federal on-scene coordinator for the response, is asking vessel traffic to avoid the spill area if they can. "We are working with our state and local partners to mitigate any further environmental impact while continuing to facilitate the safe movement of marine traffic to the fullest extent possible."

"We are continuing to examine all measures necessary to maintain uninterrupted commerce throughout the Morgan City Captain of the Port Zone," he said.

Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector New Orleans received the first notification of a contaminant in the water at 9:34 am Saturday local time, when a caller reported a three-mile-long rainbow sheen in the gulf.

About two hours later, another caller reported a sheen about 100 miles long, originating in the same area south of Grand Isle and spreading west to Cocodrie on Terrebonne Bay.

Dolphins swim through contaminated water in the Gulf of Mexico, March 18, 2011 (Photo by Jerry Moran of Native Orleanian Fine Photography)

An overflight conducted by a Coast Guard helicopter and crew was able to confirm a substance on the surface of the water, but was unable to complete the aerial survey because they were diverted for a search and rescue case.

The Coast Guard activated its Gulf Strike Team. Another helicopter and crew was launched from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans to continue the aerial survey.

A fixed-wing plane and crew along with a marine science expert were deployed from Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama, to confirm and assess the situation.

Coast Guard Cutter Pompano was deployed and gathered samples, which have been analyzed and have been found to contain only trace amounts of petroleum hydrocarbons, oil and grease.

"At this point, the dark substance is believed to be caused by a tremendous amount of sediment being carried down the Mississippi River due to high water, possibly further agitated by dredging operations," the Coast Guard said Sunday.

The environmental services company ES&H has been contracted to clean up the spill.

Today, approximately 10,000 feet of containment and sorbent boom have been pre-staged to prevent damage to environmentally sensitive areas. Two barge boats and four skimmer vessels are at work to remove the oily substance and another two are standing by.

"As we are all stewards of the environment and equally concerned with the impacts to our shorelines, the state is jointly managing this spill to ensure that all resources and emergency response personnel are best utilized in a unified response posture," said Randall McGimsey, a representative from the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office.

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety, the Grand Isle Fire Department and the Louisiana National Guard are also assisting cleanup efforts.

The U.S. Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was opened on Saturday.

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