Storm could be a blessing and a curse for oil spill

* Storm could hasten natural degradation of spilled oil

* High winds could blow oil into sensitive marshlands

* Skimmer fleet having trouble finding oil to contain

* About half of spilled oil has evaporated, biodegraded

By Chris Baltimore

HOUSTON, July 23 (BestGrowthStock) – Tropical Storm Bonnie could
help dissipate a giant oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, but
could further damage fragile marshlands if heavy wind and waves
drive more oil ashore, experts said on Friday.

The fast-moving Bonnie is over south Florida on a track
that is expected to take it near the site of BP Plc’s (BP.L: )
(BP.N: ) massive oil leak, and make landfall on the Louisiana
coast late on Saturday or early Sunday.

The collision of a tropical storm with a giant oil spill is
an unprecedented event, and experts predicted both positive and
negative impacts.

“It might actually be good for cleansing the system but in
other circumstances it might cause even more problems if it
blows a lot of the oil directly onshore,” said Chuck Kennicutt,
an oceanography professor at Texas A&M University in College
Station, Texas.

A storm’s intense wave action can accelerate the natural
process of breaking down the oil, causing it to evaporate or
coagulate into emulsified tarballs, Kennicutt said.

But a storm’s natural tidal surge could pound the oil into
fragile marshes and bayous, where they will be difficult to
clean up, he said.

“We’re pretty much in unknown territory here,” he said.

Kennicutt’s assessment was echoed by the top U.S. oil spill
official on Friday.

“I think there is a good part and a bad part to that,”
retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said, referring to the
storm.

“Sometimes the increased action on the surface can actually
help with the emulsification of the oil and the distribution
and biodegradation,” Allen said. “On the other hand you have
the chance that a storm surge can drive that up into the beach
and marshes, where it would not have been driven otherwise.”

The U.S. Coast Guard estimated about half the oil from the
spill has evaporated or dissipated already.

A BIG BOOM

High winds and waves could displace hundreds of miles of
floating plastic boom placed around the most sensitive beaches
and wetlands, including key bird habitats.

“That’s something that you can anticipate — the boom just
getting blown everywhere,” said Mike Parr, vice president of
the American Bird Conservancy.

High winds could blow an oily water mix over sandy berms
and into marshes that are key habitats for birds like the
reddish egret and the black skimmer, Parr said.

In a potentially positive sign, Allen said that the amount
of oil observed at the spill site has decreased in recent
days.

“There’s not a lot of oil out there,” Allen said.

In some cases, a fleet of about 800 skimming vessels has
had a hard time finding oil to clean, Allen said this week.

But according to U.S. government estimates cited by
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal this week, there are still about
1.6 million barrels of oil sloshing around in the Gulf.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimated about 5.4 million barrels of
oil has spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 rig explosion
and, of that, about 2.6 million barrels have evaporated or
biodegraded. That was based on U.S. scientists’ estimates that
the Macondo well had spewed up to 60,000 barrels (2.5 million
gallons/9.5 million liters) a day before being sealed on July
15.

The worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history also has
soiled about 475 miles (764 km) of Louisiana shoreline, Jindal
said.

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(Reporting by Chris Baltimore, Editing by Erwin Seba and
Jackie Frank)

Storm could be a blessing and a curse for oil spill