Wednesday morning, Gulf Restoration Network and our partners at Waltzer Wiygul & Garside LLC and Vanishing Earth flew over coastal Louisiana, to document the Hilcorp Energy pipeline spill in Barataria Bay. Yesterday, we took a boat and surveyed the sheens and slicks, grasses and birds at water level.
The crude oil leak, which was reported wednesday at 8 square miles, originated in an older pipeline canal and has smothered shoreline marshes at the root, like a heavy coating of poorly applied mascara. Local storms have dispersed sheens that spread out into Barataria Bay; local marshes remain thoroughly gooped. Of the ~8,000 spills in the Gulf with a known volume over the last 5 years, this spill is larger than 90 percent of them.
Barataria Bay was one of the most heavily oiled areas during the BP disaster. The impacts of that disaster broke every link in the food web--scientists speculate that the dolphin population will not recover for generations.
Hilcorp has been eroding marshes across Louisiana with poor propwashing practices and illegal dredging, often in old oilfields the Restoration program plans to restore. No coincidence, then, that the company was ignorant enough of the pipeline on its site to break it. Although we continually hear how this pipeline was 'abandoned', it's not as though Hilcorp didn't know what they were getting into by acting the fool in Louisiana's old oilfields. What's even more frustrating is that this area of marshland is also in the Master Plan as a crucial wetland for sheltering coastal communities from storms. The damage from the Hilcorp spill will lead to the death of some of these marshes - the same marshes that defend us from storms. Hilcorp is messing with our future.
In addition to providing important storm protection for communities, Barataria Bay is also a center for recreational and commercial fishing and serves as essential fish and migratory bird habitat. During our flyover, there were visible oil sheens over oyster leases, oiled marshes and birds trying to land in oiled areas.
Barataria Bay is still in recovery from the BP oil disaster, and now Hilcorp is once again oiling these marshes and harming our fish and dolphins.
Time and time again, we see the oil and gas industry undermining restoration efforts and refusing to pay for the damage they have done. It’s more than time for them to pay their fair share to fix the coast. We anticipate that Hilcorp will have to conduct a NRDA, a study of the deaths this spill has caused--including health impacts to our imperiled Barataria Bay Dolphin populations.
Scott Eustis is GRN's Coastal Wetland Specialist