Why Oily Gulf of Mexico Water could be Catastrophic in a Hurricane Storm Surge

A new weapon is in place to combat the oily water in the Gulf of Mexico. An old oil tanker that is 10 stories high and more than 1,000 feet long, has been converted into an oil skimmer to remove the remnants of oil left from the oil spill.

Gigantic seven-foot waves, along with high tides and damaging winds generated by Hurricane Alex, has already moved more of the oil onto beaches in the Gulf Coast. Alex also dumped tar balls as big as oranges on the beaches of Grand Isle and Elmers Island.

Lightening and heavy rains has kept oil-cleanup at a minimum during the storm and the many lines of containment boom has washed away. The booms, protecting the fragile ecosystems region, were no match for the pounding waves and storm surges. When the weather permit, volunteers and workers will begin to move the containment booms back in place.

Marine science technician Michael Malone said the weather has caused all previous progress to be lost and weather has stopped controlled oil burns, oil skimming and the spraying of chemicals that help the oil break up.

In Alabama, beautiful white sand is stained with long, ugly brown lines of oil. Many roads are impassable and drivers have to take detours to avoid the oily water making its way to the shores.

Seawalls line most of the major beach roads, but they were no match for the strong winds and high tides that easily brought new tar balls and lines of tar to the beaches.

Several marshes and ecosystems were only partially protected by containment boom and witnesses saw crabs covered in crude oil trying to make their way to safety.

The 2010 hurricane season is expected to be more active than the past few years and some people worry that the oil in the Gulf will be violently washed ashore. When the oil is ashore, residents fear the black oil will get into their homes and cause health related problems among others.

Some experts insist that the choppy waters and high winds of a hurricane will help to break the oil apart and give it the ability to dissipate. Others fear the high winds will propel the sticky oil onto the shores, the roads and ultimately into homes. If the latter happens, residents living on the Gulf Coast will have to deal with not only the oil but also possible bacteria and a variety of chemicals.

Several tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (on the chemicals used to disperse the oil) prove they are all toxic, but not as toxic as the oil.  Many more test are needed to determine if the mixture of chemicals and oil is a treat to the environment, sea-life and to humans.

Many predictions have been made about the outcome of a hurricane passing over and through the huge oil spill.  If any of the oil enters the powerful loop current, the oil could make its way up into the Florida Keys and then, onto the Atlantic Coast.

A wide range of possibilities have been voiced by several experts and some of them are based on what happened in 1979 – after the Ixtoc oil spill. Hurricane Henri passed North of that spill and there was not much of a problem – Ixtoc was a minor spill compared to the BP oil spill.

* Hurricane Henri did not have enough force winds to greatly affect the spill and the direction of the flow.

* The high tides, storm surges swells, high wind and waves removed more than 90 percent of the oil from the corroded beaches.

* Shores made up of marshlands did not see the same result, the majority of oil could not be shaken loose.

* A mature hurricane moving through the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will very probably result in more damage to the coast. The oil will be spread over a larger area and more oil be washed inland, even if it is broken up.

* Oil may get trapped in the 250-mile wide loop current, resulting in a swirling oil slick that cannot escape. The trapped oil will lead to warmer Gulf waters and even strong future hurricanes – as a direct result of the warmed, oily waters.

Countries all over the world have offered their assistance to help clean up the oil spill. Offers from 12 countries and international organizations were accepted, from among the thousands of offers that poured in.

Rarely is the United States faces with a disaster of this type, so no one can accurately predict the effects of hurricanes on the oil remaining in the Gulf waters. Residents will have to wait and see exactly what will happen, this time.

The storms that form in the coming hurricane season may not be able to do what hurricane Henri did in 1979. These storms may be stronger or weaker than Henri and the results may be different. And, even if the oil is washed from the shores and from the waters, it is still in existence – somewhere.


1] WKRG.com/gulf_oil_spill

2] Lloyds.com/News-and-Insight

3] MSNBC.msn.com/id/38017196

4] Weather.com/newscenter/hurricanecentral/2010/alex.html