State News

N.C. Coast Guard Cutter to depart for Gulf oil spill

Posted May 10, 2010

— A North Carolina Coast Guard ship has been tapped to help clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard Cutter Elm is scheduled to depart Monday afternoon for the Gulf. The 225-foot cutter is based in Atlantic Beach, N.C. The ship is a buoy tender with a skimming system to help contain spills, a Coast Guard spokesman said. It is unclear how long the ship and its crew of 40 will be gone.

About 40 percent of the nation's coastal wetlands are clumped along southern Louisiana, directly in the path of oil that was still gushing Monday from a ruptured underwater well. Roughly 3.5 million gallons has escaped in the three weeks since an oil rig explosion, and some is bearing down on the marshes as workers rush to lay protective boom.

Removing oil from wetlands is a huge challenge. Bulldozers can't simply scrape away contaminated soil, as they do on beaches. Cutting and removing oil-soaked vegetation could further weaken the fragile vegetation that holds the marshes together. Absorbent materials and detergents have limited effectiveness, Graves said.

If a thick enough layer of oil coats hardy swamp grasses and shrubs, scientists say it could shut down their equivalent of breathing - absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.

"You could literally suffocate the marsh," said Alex Kolker, a coastal systems specialist with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Even worse, the oil could soak into the ground and poison roots, killing entire plants. With nothing to anchor it, the soil would wash away, accelerating a process that has cost Louisiana about 2,300 square miles of coastal marshes and barrier islands the last 80 years – an area bigger than Delaware.

A spill-related loss of wetlands would ripple through the food chain they support, from tiny organisms to fish and birds.

Or the damage could be less severe and the ecosystem could survive yet again.

"It's like when you get pneumonia," Kolker said. "There's a certain amount you can handle and bounce back, and there's a certain amount that will make you miserable but you'll survive, and there's a certain amount that will kill you."

All hinges on how much oil reaches the wetlands, and how soon workers can plug the leak from the stricken well pouring at least 200,000 gallons daily into the Gulf since the rig exploded and sank April 20.


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  • mpheels May 11, 2010

    djofraleigh, I'm guessing the ship wasn't sent down there earlier because the crew had to finish another assignment first, or wait until additional CG resources were available in NC before leaving. I'd hate to think that the NC coast and coastal rivers/sounds were going without CG protection because of the oil spill.

  • OGE May 10, 2010

    I can't believe that the oil companies didn't have a plan (other than to cry for help). I hope BP refunds every cent we, the taxpayers, have to spend cleaning up their mess.

    If you've seen how much Exxon has not been held accountable for the Valdese....then BP will not lose one red cent.

  • djofraleigh May 10, 2010

    IF they want to shut down drilling, why don't they shut down all those in operation? They don't have the safety backup. To stop production of new wells yet leave the old wells going would be hypocrisy and pretend solution of this pollution threat.

    I'd say stopping the deep water drilling would make sense, but that would leave the Russians, Vietnamese, Venezuelans pumping away in waters of Cuba et al.

  • djofraleigh May 10, 2010

    Why wasn't this ship on the way weeks ago? I thought we were hitting the gulf with everything we had.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT May 10, 2010

    Accidents happen in ANY industry. And you don't shut down an industry because of a couple of accidents. There are THOUSANDS of oil rigs. How often does this happen? That's a pretty good record in ANY book. Drill, Baby, Drill.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT May 10, 2010

    Strike a match and bring the marshmallows.

  • mpheels May 10, 2010

    jason3, they did have a plan. It didn't work because they didn't follow it. A large part of the oil spill containment plan is to have sufficient containment boom nearby at all times just in case. BP was supposed to have enough containment supplies on hand to contain the slick immediately. They didn't have the materials on hand, and the slick was allowed to grow/spread/shift while they waited for the materials to arrive. This plan wouldn't have prevented the spill, but it would have made it much easier to contain and clean up. I don't know why BP ignored their own plan, but I'm pretty sure it was to save a few (relatively) few bucks.

  • hkypky May 10, 2010

    All you drill-baby-drill advocates need to start taking notes.

  • whocares May 10, 2010

    From what I have heard, the oil company did not file a safety plan as they were told they didn't have to by the committee that Cheaney was involvedwith. If this is true, I hope he is happy he has destroyed not only the ocean and wetlands of Louisanna, but the livelyhood of the fishermen and tourism of that state.

  • jason3 May 10, 2010

    I can't believe how everyone is so quick to bash the oil companies and how they "didn't have a plan." From what I understand they did have an emergency plan for this type of thing but for some reason it didn't work. Accidents do happen sometimes. And what exactly is wrong with the government helping? If your house catches fire you call the fire department don't you??? Maybe we should focus on stopping the oil first and then point fingers and find a cause second. Just a thought.