Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–November 3, 2010.
Paul Zukunft: OK. Well good morning everybody. This is the 197th day of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response. Today we have just over 9,200 people out doing active response operations in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. I reported last week that we had approximately 580 miles of shoreline that had been oiled and about 30 miles of that is heavy oil.
Those numbers still remain the same. We have what’s called shoreline treatment recommendations for every one of those miles. And until we reach a point where we sign off where there’s no further treatment among those 580 miles, those numbers will remain somewhat consistent. As I’ll just walk you across each of the states and give you an idea of the type of activities taking place.
Over in Florida and especially in areas of Pensacola, we actually have some tar mats that are in the inner tidal zone. And on occasion, those tar mats break loose. They come back ashore. We actually have scuba teams out there right now that are mapping where those tar mats are and trying to do recovery operations or at least stage crews in advance of where that oil may come ashore.
In Alabama, we have two main recreational beach areas, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. We’ve moved five, they’re called power screeners, that do sand cleaning operations. They clean about 440 tons of sand per hour. And when that sand is clean it’s then redistributed across the beach.
And we’ve met with each of the mayors there with Mayor Kennon and Mayor Craft in those two communities to work on an end point of getting those beaches clean before the end of the calendar year, which will, the biggest looming factor right now will be weather. Because when that sand is wet, it’s not possible to do this mechanical cleaning operation. But that continues and we’re continuing to make progress there.
In Mississippi, we have the Barrier Islands of Mississippi that’s still have oiling. This is on Petit Bois Island, Ship Island, Horn Island and Cat Island. So we send teams out there on a daily basis. They have to take boats that get off shore to do the work on those shorelines. And then it’s very weather dependent as well. If the seas are too rough, the crews can’t get out there. So we did lose a couple of days last week doing that type of cleanup activity in the state of Mississippi.
And then in Louisiana, we still have some oil into marsh areas. And then we have oiling on Pelican Island, on Grand Isle and Fourchon Beach and also Grand Terre Island. Some of that oil has actually worked its way, you know, a couple of feet into the, into the sand column. We’ve done auguring to test how deep that penetrates. And then working with the local, the local stakeholders of how deep we actually do the cleaning in some of those areas. On those Barrier Islands, we don’t want to go too deep to make that sand unstable. But again, that continues to be an active operation out there as well.
In terms of community outreach, on Friday I hosted a meeting with the state of Louisiana and each of the coastal Parish Presidents just to gain alignment on where we are in this cleanup. More importantly to communicate the long term restoration that follows this emergency response phase of this operation. And that, that’s the phase that’s known as “The Natural Resource Damage Assessment” or NRDA, which does not come under my authority as the Federal On Scene Coordinator but is more legal based on the amount of damage done to the environment and then scientific that looks at methodologies of how to do long term restoration on the areas that were impacted by this oil spill.
And finally, we continue to work on, with seafood safety. We’ve worked with the state of Louisiana and with the responsible party for example to stand up a more aggressive marketing campaign on seafood safety but also we continue to do the seafood sampling. As you’ve heard me say time and again, you know, it is clearly the most sampled seafood.
But we’re really dealing with probably product imaging right now. We’ve had no positive indications of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in all of the numerous tests that we’ve done, which has allowed us to reopen all but 9,000 square miles of the nearly 90,000 square miles of federal waters that were closed to fishing. And as you know, we continue to go back and resample those areas after they’ve been reopened. But there is still that skepticism of there could be oil out there.
Integral for that seafood safety is our subsea sampling where we’ve done numerous tests on the water column, on the sea floor. And then also working with other scientists who are doing independent research. We’re working with Kevin Yeager, with the University of Southern Mississippi, who has done some preliminary data gathering.
There’s been some reporting that is going out and we’re actually comparing our, the data sets, if you will. But none of that data has been through thorough analysis. His data indicated that there was a scent of hydrocarbon in some of the sediment grabs that he had conducted.
And again, my interest is that we’re looking for oil that we can actually recover and remove. But to date, we have not found any submerged oil anywhere offshore or near shore in the water column or on the sea floor other than near shore tar mats that we’ve been able to recover. But that’s the key component of our subsea monitoring program.
So that’s an update. As I said, we’re in day 197 and still a very active response. But at this point, I’d be happy to entertain any questions.
Operator: At this time, I’d like to remind everyone in order to ask a question, press star then number one on your telephone key pad. We will pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster. Your first question comes from the line of Chris Kirkham with the “Times-Picayune.”
Paul Zukunft: Good morning, Chris. I’m ready for your question.
Operator: Chris has withdrawn his question. Your next question comes from the line of Nancy McKenzie with NOLA Emergency Response.
Nancy McKenzie: Hi, Admiral. Thanks for taking my call. Just out of my own curiosity, I recently bought a couple of pounds of shrimp in Venice and had the veins tested.
Paul Zukunft: Yes.
Nancy McKenzie: And they came back with 193 parts per million of oil. And I was wondering if you could comment on that.
Paul Zukunft: OK. Yes, no I’m not aware of that of that particular test. I’ve been to the lab in Pascagoula where they actually do the sensory and then the chemical tests over there. And then when I’ve seen the shrimp that’s been tested, it is deveined. So, you know, the shrimp has been deveined and deshelled when they do the analysis. So all I can comment are the protocols that we’re using and the fact that we’re not finding any concentration of PAH in those tests. So that’s new information and I’ll have our environmental unit follow up on that.
Nancy McKenzie: Yes, please do. Because a lot of the people down here cook in shell and cook with veins in. So…
Paul Zukunft: Fully aware of that.
Nancy McKenzie: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Paul Zukunft: All right. Thank you.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Alex Woodward with “Gambit Weekly.”
Alex Woodward: Hi. Good morning, Admiral. Can you tell me how many vessels of opportunity participants are currently deployed?
Paul Zukunft: OK. Right now the only state where we have vessels of opportunity are in Louisiana. Yesterday’s count was approximately 280. We’re actually on hire but we fully expect to see that number come down. These were vessels that were really brought on hire to do skimming operations. And we’ve really had no skimmable oil since the early part of August.
We still have a lot of logistic support needed. On a lot of these barrier islands, a lot of that oil is manually removed. It’s put in trash bags and then it needs to be hauled off. So we’ll actually see some of those vessels of opportunity being redirected and then, you know, rehired if you will to do that type of work. But the skimming activity has really, has really fallen off to nothing to speak of. But again, that number’s approximately 280 vessels.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Chris Kirkham with the “Times-Picayune.”
Chris Kirkham: OK. Can you hear me now?
Paul Zukunft: Yes, I’ve got you Chris.
Chris Kirkham: OK. Good morning. Yes, I wanted to get a sense with the sediment sampling and the water column sampling. Just how extensive that is because the kind of complaint that I’m hearing from the parish presidents on the ground is not that the Coast Guard and NOAA aren’t doing the test but they’re not doing the test in the places they’re telling them to do the tests.
So I’m just wondering kind of like how, as far as, I know, I know the seafood sampling kind of works but as far as the sampling of the sediment and the water column, I mean how broad of a range of areas are you checking? And are you checking areas that are particular hot spots where there has been lingering oil?
Paul Zukunft: Yes. Sure, Chris. We’ve, the meeting I had on Friday with the Parish Presidents, what I provided them was a grid layout of the, we have several different sampling techniques at the very near shore. And this was an area that they were most concerned with.
We have, it’s called sentinel snares. We have over 420 of these deployed in Louisiana, which are basically a crab trap like device that sits on the bottom but then the rope that it’s tethered to has what’s called snare boom on it. It’s actually an oleophilic device that where oil adheres to this, looks like a pom pom, if you will.
So we showed each Parish President what that grid layout was on our meeting on Friday. And then they were satisfied with the layout we had and the fact that we have not had any hits, if you will, of oil on any one of those 420 snare traps since the 20th of September.
And these are checked on a near daily basis. It may go two days or three days if the weather prevents us from getting out there. But these are checked on a regular basis. And we’re not seeing any, like I say we’ve had that one hit and that was in close proximity to one of the barrier islands where’s there still oil in that inner tidal area, which is probably how that one picked up a tar ball.
And then as you go further offshore, we have a very extensive grid across the entire Gulf of Mexico where we’ve done water sampling and also sediment sampling, which goes out to the well site down to depths of 5,000 feet and greater where we’re still doing sediment grabs. And then also water sampling test throughout that water column and those great depths. You know, not just at the sea floor but throughout.
And the most recent sampling data that we’ve had in the water column have been, we’re seeing concentrations at the very high end of about .5 parts per billion. So very low. Well within safety thresholds. And the sediment data that we have is still, a lot of that data is still preliminary and still needs to go through more extensive analysis to determine concentrations of hydrocarbon.
And so some of the reports that have been released by other scientists, not as part of our unified area command, is still that preliminary data where perhaps an odor of hydrocarbon was detected in that sediment grab. But we still, you know, the concentration and the source of that oil has not been finalized yet.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Liz Shogren with NPR.
Elizabeth Shogren: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I’m wondering if you can tell me about those sediment samples that you’re finding and the other submerged oil that you’re finding. You said you couldn’t recover it. Does that mean you’re not finding oil? Or the oil that you’re finding, you don’t have technology to recover? And if not, why not?
Paul Zukunft: Yes. Sure, Liz. What we’re finding is oil in such a low concentration that there’s no, you know, practical means of doing recovery. Just like we did early on in the spill where we’re doing skimming or we had the insitu burns that you may be familiar with. And some of this oil, you know, is at such a great depth and, again, such a low concentration that there really is no methodology in place to recover oil of such a low concentration.
We’re also looking at where there are natural seeps throughout the Gulf of Mexico, which is actually, it’s part of the natural resource damage assessment but at least it provides us a baseline, roughly 40 million gallons of oil naturally seep into the Gulf of Mexico on an annual basis. So we want to look at where’s there’s natural seeps and then how that oil breaks down. And then how we can perhaps compare that to what we see in some of the sediment that’s closer to the well site.
We don’t have, again, full analytic data but the fact that we’re finding, you know, you know, some concentration of hydrocarbon in the sediment near the well site, you know, it would lead us, at least, to an early hypothesis that, you know, that oil could be connected to the Deepwater Horizon site.
But again, we’re looking at throughout the Gulf of Mexico where there is natural seepage. But there is no methodology in place to do oil recovery at those great depths, especially when it’s in such a low concentration.
Elizabeth Sogren: And just to follow up on that, that oil that you are finding in the sediment, you said you only have preliminary data on that? Can you, can you explain why you only have preliminary data? Why does it take so long to figure out whether the samples that you have pulled up have oil in them or not? Are there other elements of the hydrocarbons?
Paul Zukunft: Yes. It goes with a very a protocol, I guess, I’d call it the chain of custody, if you will, for these thousands and thousands of samples, you know, the coordinates, the depth, you know. Where that sample was pulled. And then, you know, all of these are going into a lab.
But we’re, you know, rather than, you know, taking one sample and then providing a conclusive report based on one or two samples, we’re actually trying to get a more robust data base if you will and run additional samples. Clearly some of these have been run but certainly not, we don’t have enough data integrity yet to provide any conclusive report, if you will, based on this preliminary data. But some of it is in that analytic phase. It’s just getting, you know, a robust enough data set before we can make any type of a conclusive determination.
Elizabeth Shogren: When will that be ready?
Paul Zukunft: We’re working with NOAA on that. And I can probably provide you an update by next week’s report. We do not have NOAA on the line today. But NOAA is supporting my effort in this, in this response phase of the operation.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Anthony Bryant) with (Azura) Innovative Solutions.
Anthony Bryant: Good morning, Admiral. Good morning.
Paul Zukunft: Good morning.
Anthony Bryant: Hi. My main concern is, as everyone else, the conditions there but I’m actually read that it’s from that area. And I’m looking at the mental health of the workers from the outreach component. How is the employment, the job, the career and the outreach components are going on, have any major corporations looked to relocate to try to stimulate the economy down in that region?
And if so, my company has some contacts that we’re trying to reach BP in general to try to coordinate some things that we can do to help that region from an economic or social, even try to stimulate the economy with some industries are willing to relocate or looked towards relocating, even involving the educational system to try to better the condition. Is there any contact information that you can get to instead of going through the, we’re willing to go through the protocol to make contact but is there any contact numbers that we can coordinate with BP or any agency down there that can facilitate that?
Paul Zukunft: You know, right now, you know, as the Federal On Scene Coordinator, I lead the response phase of this operation. And my emphasis is on, say for example, seafood safety. And then sampling that goes with that is to get all those waters reopened to fishing to then, you know, revitalize, if you will, the seafood industry. And that’s all the entities that support it, not just the fisherman. It’s the packing houses, the folks that sell ice. It’s the retail aspect of that as well.
The area that you’re focused on would really be in the long term restoration of, as a result of this oil spill. I, there are several entities that will emerge and one of those is the Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. But again, that has not been fully stood up. But under executive order by the President, you know, the EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson will be the director of that task force. And in fact, I will be meeting with Administrator Jackson next week in Pensacola as they look at standing up that entity.
There’s another process in place and that’s called the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. And if you look at this oil spill as a patient, if you will, you know, this patient has been in intensive care in open heart surgery, if you will, for the last six months. And it’s going to take years and years of rehab, in this case, for the Gulf of Mexico, the patient, to recover. And all of that will fall under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.
The Department of Interior, in this case, Fish and Wildlife Service, typically takes a leadership role but is one of several trustees. Within the state of Louisiana, that actually falls under the (purview) of LOSCO, which is Louisiana Coastal Restoration Organization. And the trustee for the state of Louisiana is Garret Graves.
And then finally, there’s another entity and this is with BP called the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization that will, again, be looking at long term recovery of the Gulf of Mexico. And this is probably more in line with where your concerns are is not just the restoration of the wet lands but also, you know, the economic fabric, if you will, of the affected area.
And there’s more information on that on the BP Web site. But I expect that organization will stand up on or about the 1st of December. They will have offices in New Orleans at 1250 Poydras Street. They’ll also have an office in Gulfport, Mississippi, Gulf Shores, Alabama and in Pensacola, Florida. But of the three, that is the emerging organization under BP that is prepared to look at some of the other aspects of recovering economically from this oil spill and looking at those opportunities as you had mentioned.
Operator: And at this time there are no questions. Do you have any closing remarks?
Paul Zukunft: No. All I will close with is even though we’re closing in on the 200th day, we’re still very much engaged and very much at the local level. At the very beginning of this spill, we had the entire Gulf of Mexico from Panama City all the way over to Galveston was an impacted area from this oil spill. Whereas now we’re dealing with pockets of heavy oil. Only about 30 miles of this 580 miles of shoreline actually has heavy recoverable oil in it. And the majority of this oil is now light and trace amounts.
But again, it’s still a very active response and I look forward to hosting this call again this time next week. And operator, that’s all from the Federal On Scene Coordinator.
Operator: Thank you. That concludes today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.
Paul Zukunft: OK, thank you very much.