New emphasis on testing for "submerged oil" in MS Sound

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The ongoing oil recovery effort in Mississippi will soon have more vessels dedicated to searching for oil underwater. This new emphasis on "sub surface" oil was among several topics discussed during a Thursday afternoon briefing at the DMR.

Officials made it clear they have not yet found any sub surface oil in the Mississippi Sound. However, certain boats in the Vessels of Opportunity program will now be assigned to search for possible underwater oil in Mississippi waters.

The Coast Guard announced the plans to search for underwater oil.  One fourth of the 32 boats in the Vessels of Opportunity program will be assigned that task.

"When they're underway, they're going to have a set protocol where they're going to be looking for possible sub-surface oil. We don't know if it's out there, but we will be looking to identify those substances that are of question," said the Coast Guard's Kristen Jaekel.

One elementary means of searching for underwater oil involves attaching absorbent pads to boat anchors.

"Put it to the bottom, drag it for about 200 meters, pull it up and see if it came clean," Lt. Jaekel explained.

The DEQ's area supervisor says there's been no evidence of any sub-surface oil, despite numerous tests in the water column.

WLOX News asked:  Why then the sudden emphasis on sub surface?

"I think it's partly because the surface has been cleaned up and also because there's a great deal of concern among the public that there may be submerged oil out there. So, we just want to go the distance and make sure that it is not there," said Nick Gatian, the South Regional supervisor for the Department of Environmental Quality.

BP spokeswoman Maureen Johnson addressed the concerns about "plumes of oil" discovered by scientists in the gulf waters since the oil spill.

"What you may have heard spoken of as plumes of oil is parts per million levels of oil, one or two parts per million, more than 100 miles from here. And actually what was measured while the well was flowing, was lower than background levels today," said Johnson.

Col. Lee Smithson briefed EOC directors on the National Guard's plans to reduce the number of troops assigned to oil recovery duty.

He said the guard's two busiest aircraft have flown the equivalent of six trips around the world on oil spill duty.   He also praised an effective radio system, calling it a "lesson from Katrina."

"We were able to take that communication system, put it on the aircraft, put soldiers and coast guardsmen and airmen on the vessels of opportunity with the hand held radios. Then with our unified command  post, in this building, we were able to bring it all together," said Col. Smithson.

Also from Thursday's briefing, the DMR's Dr. Bill Walker said there's a good chance Mississippi waters could be re-opened for crabbing sometime next week. The latest crab samples passed one series of tests and he's now awaiting some final results next week

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