Eye on the Coast: Latest from the Field

In the last field monitoring trip in the Gulf of 2012, GRN organized a boat tour for some of our major supporters to get a first-hand look at a coastal restoration project already taking place as well as areas where serious problems persist thanks to coastal erosion and ongoing oil and gas impacts, including the BP drilling disaster.In somewhat breaking from tradition on this trip, we decided to enlist the services of Marie Gould and her company, Louisiana Lost Lands Environmental Tours. Marie’s husband is columnist and coastal activist Bob Marshall, formerly with the Times Picayune, and when I first contacted Marie she mentioned that Bob may be available to give a presentation and his take on some of the problems and solutions. As luck would have it, Bob and Marie were great and helped organize some of the logistics, Bob showed a great slideshow about the history of the Mississippi River Delta, it was a beautiful albeit chilly day, and our supporters left more enlightened than they were when they arrived and even more inspired to take action.After a morning rendezvous at a camp in Myrtle Grove, we boarded our boats and headed to our first stop: a marsh creation project in Lake Hermitage in southern Plaquemines Parish. Extensive damage to this marsh was caused by the development of the Magnolia Oil and Gas Field. The dredging of pipeline and access canals sliced and diced the marsh into bits and pieces. The wounds, left unchecked, festered for decades and saltwater was allowed to settle in, speeding up the decay. The damage can clearly be seen and while Magnolia is no longer producing, the nearby Lake Hermitage Field is. That field has seven producing wells comprising a total of 3,578 mineral acres. Ten wells are currently shut-in but could be reopened in the future. There are three processing facilities and tank batteries in the field and the crude oil produced is transported out of the field by barge.The Lake Hermitage restoration project is, by most measures, a model of restoration. Prior to the BP disaster, Louisiana and the Department of Interior had an existing plan, funded through the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) Program, to add 550 acres to the site, by dredging silt from the nearby Mississippi River. That effort eventually became budget-strapped and threatened to leave the project incomplete and with an uncertain future. Now, The Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation – NRDA Early Restoration Project , one of the early efforts proposed to help Louisiana recover from the BP disaster, piggybacks on existing construction, adding 100 acres of marsh to the pre-existing plans. $13 million from BP’s early fund is being used to complete the work.http://www.flickr.com/photos/healthygulf/sets/72157632477572025/show/After surveying the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation – NRDA Early Restoration Project, we made our way deep into northern Barataria to Bay Jimmy. Even though the oil spill happened on April 20, 2010, an unknown amount of BP oil still remains in northern Barataria marshes, many of which have yet to recover. One of coastal scientists’ biggest fears is accelerate erosion in sensitive marsh areas where the oil settled in. Since the BP disaster began in 2010, GRN has taken numerous trips to Bay Jimmy and other heavily impacted areas. Unfortunately, their fears are coming true. Today, The marsh edge in Bay Jimmy is still dotted with asphaltene mats of dried oil. In the hottest months of the year, if you know where to look you can still see oil oozing up from the soil.After hurricane Isaac in August of last year, GRN made several trips by boat and air to monitor environmental impacts. On one of those trips we went back to northern Barataria Bay and documented “fresh”, liquid oil coating the marsh grass. The scene was reminiscent of 2010 when hundreds of miles of marsh in Louisiana were coated in oil.On the day of this trip, given the shallow water depths and time constraints, we opted not to get out of the boats to look around for oil. Nevertheless, it is still there and on upcoming trips we will do just that. As a matter of fact, stay tuned for updates from two more scheduled monitoring trips over the next couple of weeks.If you would like to support our critical, independent field monitoring program, please visit here to make a donation. Thank you!Jonathan Henderson is the Coastal Resiliency Organizer for GRN.

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