How Much Oil is Getting Removed from Florida’s Beaches?

Last week the dark shadow of BP’s oil spill disaster finally landed on eight miles of Pensacola’s sugar sand beaches. Despite Escambia County’s collection of nearly 45,000 pounds of tarballs and oil related crud, there was yet more oil discovered beneath the sands of the beaches.This subsurface discovery presents just some of the challenges of dealing with oil covered beaches: 1) The tides naturally cover new piles of sand over the deposited oil. So clean up crews have to anticipate and react in a timely and adequate way. 2) The surface appearance of clean beaches belies the fact that more toxic oil may be lurking just beneath, thus posing a harm to both humans as well as marine life. 3) Newly cleaned beaches that get “re-tarballed” will need quick action to be cleaned up yet again.We didn’t have to look far or dig deep to discover this. USF geologist Ping Wang only had to dig a five foot long and one foot deep trench to discover the veins of oil underneath the surface at Pensacola Beach. Meanwhile, we wait to hear if the Florida DEP has information on the permeability of this type of crude oil in subsurface sands to assess the impacts on invertebrates and to determine the rate and depth of seepage.The reports of subsurface oil-tainted sands strongly suggest that top cleaning is not enough. Not only do we need to clean up coasts aesthetically, but we need a thorough excavation to get rid of all oil contaminants before it settles in. The state should be assessing the true difficulty of that job and vigorously doucumenting the harms the subsurface oil poses so that the citizens of Florida can demand that BP pay for all that we have lost.Darden Rice is GRN’s Florida Program Director

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