Coast Guard: Gulf Coast cleanup efforts ‘far from over’

HOUSTON – The Coast Guard is crying foul at BP’s statement this week that active cleanup efforts to remove oil along the Gulf Coast shorelines have ended.

While BP claims it has reached a “milestone” in the cleanup process, the Coast Guard says it’s “far from over.”

The semantic squabble began late Tuesday after the Coast Guard changed the way it is handling three miles of Louisiana coastline where oil consistently turns up.

The Coast Guard opened case files with the National Response Center to address reports of oil in those regions, moving the case from the specifically tasked Gulf Incident Management Team that has overseen the cleanup, said Petty Officer First Class Michael Anderson, a spokesman for the management team.

“From the Coast Guard’s point of view, we’re still doing active cleanup operations,” Anderson said in an interview with FuelFix. “We’ve had about 1,000 NRC reports across the Gulf Coast in the last six months, and those triggered cleanup efforts.”

The Coast Guard said it is beginning routine inspections Thursday and expects continue to clean up the shores, and that moving the cases to the National Response Center is standard procedure in spill cases.

Four years ago this Sunday, millions of barrels of oil spilled from BP’s Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico and spread to shore, prompting a cleanup effort spanning more than 770 miles of beach. The oil was cleared from Gulf waters that year, but the London oil company said late Tuesday it had spent $14 billion and about 70-million man-hours patrolling and removing oil from the coast.

BP said late Tuesday the “Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on three shoreline miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast.” It said similar operations were ended last year in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, who coordinates the federal response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, said in an emailed statement he was “disappointed” and “shocked with the tone and theme of BP’s press release.”

“Number one, BP does not speak for the Coast Guard, and we are a long way from the response being complete or for business as usual,” Sparks said.

In its statement, BP noted that the miles of shoreline were subject to the National Response Center process, and had said it would keep resources in place to respond to reports of oil that needs to be cleared.

“We have never suggested the work of the U.S. Coast Guard or BP is over,” said BP spokesman Geoff Morrell. “Our announcement Tuesday merely highlighted the end of active clean-up of the Gulf shoreline. We believe that is a very significant achievement that resulted from four years of sustained work with the” Coast Guard.

Morrell said BP will keep working with the Coast Guard to remove residual oil from the shorelines.