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Four years after oil spill, 1,250-pound tar mat washes ashore in Florida

Published Mar. 1, 2014

Nearly four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil continues washing ashore in Florida. On Thursday, a crew from the state Department of Environmental Protection found a 1,250-pound tar mat in the surf off Pensacola Beach.

The mat measured about 9 feet long and 9 feet wide, the DEP crew noted in a report. They dug up as much of the gooey mess as they could and contractors hauled it away. On Friday they excavated another 100 pounds.

"What is remarkable about this area," noted DEP team members Dominic Marcanio and Joey Whibbs in their report, "is that this segment has been previously surveyed nine times" since last June, when the state and BP agreed to discontinue daily beach surveys.

The most oil that had ever been found in those nine prior checks amounted to about 32 pounds.

However, they wrote, what had also turned up there before were "drift cards" set out by Texas A&M scientists to check where oil might go.

The fact that the drift cards ended up there, and then a giant tar mat resembling congealed gravy, indicates "this may be a natural collection area" for other oil mats still drifting around in the Gulf of Mexico, they wrote.

The glop turned up 20 feet offshore in water about 3 feet deep, according to BP spokesman Jason Ryan. "This is not new material, and it is heavily weathered and consists mainly of sand, silt and other non-oil materials," he said.

Ryan contended the oil did not just wash in, but had been there all along and was recently uncovered by wave action.

Because of its contact with the oil, the whole thing had to be handled as hazardous material. The location posed a bit of a problem for BP's contracted cleanup crews, according to Petty Officer Michael Anderson of the Coast Guard.

BP's contractors aren't allowed to go out in the surf deeper than their knees, he explained. So DEP's two inspectors used their shovels to dig up the lumps of tar and carry them to shore, where the contractors could bag them up for disposal, he said.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010. It held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil, finally succeeding in July 2010. Since then the spill has largely faded from national headlines. The oil is still there, though, to the consternation of beach residents such as Susan Forsyth.

"If two guys can find this much oil," said Forsyth, who is also affiliated with the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group, "how much more oil could they find if they had a lot more people out looking for it?"


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