Oil washes ashore on Mississippi coastline

GULFPORT, Miss. — What appeared to be oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe washed ashore in quantity for the first time Sunday on the Mississippi Coast, while emergency managers scrambled on Day 69 of the disaster to win approval for stronger protection of inland waterways, more skimming equipment in Mississippi waters and installation of absorbent material, also to keep oil out of inland waterways.

"The amount of oil moving into Mississippi waters has greatly increased in the last several days, and the prevailing winds that cause the oil and its residue to move in our direction are predicted to continue, at least until the middle of the week," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said in a statement released Sunday. "We continue to press the federal Unified Command and BP to increase the amount of resources available to attack the oil beginning as far south as possible, through the passes, into the sound, and in the mouths of the bays.

"While command and control of on-water resources has improved, it must get much better, and the amount of resources to attack the oil offshore must be greatly increased. Under the circumstances, we are taking some of that into our own hands."

The state is having skimmers built that the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality hopes to put in the water by July 5.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., continued to press into service an Environmental Protection Agency plane with infrared equipment that has not been cleared yet by Unified Command in Mobile, Ala., to spot oil in Mississippi waters. The plane instead flew out Saturday and Sunday to calibrate equipment, zeroing in on masses and streams of oil while crisscrossing Mississippi waters for more than two hours.


Satellite equipment on the plane, the only one of its kind in the nation, can immediately feed those locations to the Coast Guard to coordinate response and clean up by skimmers and other vessels of opportunity. Without such equipment, Taylor's office said, cleanup vessels have basically been playing Marco Polo in the Mississippi Sound, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico

The airplane's equipment detected large patches and streams of oil Sunday morning from Pascagoula to Biloxi, anywhere from five to 11 miles off shore. Scientists responsible for the equipment and data interpretation from the airplane put the images gathered on Google Earth, where they can be viewed by the public. The scientific team has been working with the Coast Guard in Louisiana through Region VI of EPA, which includes that state.

They said the airplane was initially brought in to monitor airborne chemicals, but infrared equipment onboard has proven exceptional at detecting and differentiating between heavy oil, oil mixed with water and even weathered oil.

"The real issue is getting these skimmers in the right location," said chemist Robert Kroutil, a member of EPA's Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology team.

Harrison County Emergency Manager Rupert Lacy said the Mississippi Coast is still waiting for more skimming power to suck up oil that is being corralled near shore. Harrison County is the most populous of the three coastal counties in Mississippi that border the Mississippi Sound.

"We're going to have oil on the beach this week," Lacy said. "Some of this they have not captured, we will see showing up. Until they can get the well capped and capture the oil offshore, we will have little splotches that will come to the sand and we'll get it cleaned up."

Oil also was massing between Horn and Ship Islands, two barrier islands in the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore chain that stretches from Florida to Mississippi.

The mayor of Ocean Springs in Jackson County was livid Sunday because BP contractors did not have skimmers in the water sucking up oil Saturday before it threatened the shoreline, bays and inlets.


"They promised us they would be fighting oil at the passes," Moran said, "and they were not there."


(c) 2010, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.).

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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