What My Sister Means to Me

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Gulf of Mexico oil spill's environmental impact expected to be profound, long-lasting

Published: Friday, May 07, 2010, 8:26 PM    

As the "Miss Brandy" shrimp boat skimmed rust-colored clumps of oxidized oil from Chandeleur Sound, seagulls from a flock circling nearby dived beneath a light oily sheen on the water's surface to feed on a school of minnows Friday afternoon.

"The fish are probably coming to the surface because they're dying from the oil," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "Those gulls think they're getting a free meal when really they're getting a load of toxins."

Schweiger, who heads the nation's largest conservation group, led reporters on a six-hour boat tour to survey ecological damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, which has been spewing an estimated 210,000 gallons of sweet crude per day into the Gulf of Mexico since the drilling rig exploded April 20.

A 100-mile round trip from Venice to the Chandeleur Islands revealed no oil on the shorelines of several islands. However, areas in Chandeleur Sound are crisscrossed by long ribbons of degraded oil, which turns a rust color as iron in the oil is exposed to air.

Once scooped from the water, the oily clumps transform into gooey dark brown globs with the consistency of molasses.

Shrimp boats were deployed throughout the sound to skim the water with orange booms to corral the floating oil.

Schweiger traced the clumping phenomenon to a decision by BP, which was leasing the rig and is in charge of clean-up efforts, to use dispersants both on the water's surface and below the surface to break up the oil before it can wash ashore.

"Using dispersants minimizes the damage to the coastline, but the oil is spread throughout the water column and probably does more damage to the fisheries," he said. "The dispersants just shift the risk. It's a trade off."

He applauded the decision to halt...
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