Oil Spill: Cleaning the Marshlands and Beaches

Adm. Thad Allen on the Early Show, Friday May 28, 2010.
As efforts to plug the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico continue Friday with the so-called "top kill," U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen spoke with "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith about developments in the clean-up effort.

Smith asked if relying on the judgment of the Army Corps of Engineers to build berms to protect Louisiana marshlands and barrier islands was the best course of action, saying that the Engineers were "basically responsible for flooding New Orleans" after Hurricane Katrina.

"I disassociate the issues of barrier islands and the ability to construct [berms] with whatever happened in New Orleans. I'm in close contact with the head of the Corps of Engineers," said Allen. "The proposal was to create a series of berms to protect the marshlands from oil. In concept, I don't think anybody has a problem with barrier islands, and having been down there [during] the Katrina response, I understand [the question]."

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

He added, "But I think we need to understand the efficiency and efficacy of doing this. We've taken the projects that have been approved and decided to go with one and build it out as quickly as possible and see if it's effective way to be part of this oil spill response."

Allen said he thought Louisana governor Bobby Jindal approved of the project and wanted to see it move forward but cautioned that it may take as long as nine months to build berms for the islands because of environmental concerns.

"We have more environmental questions to ask on the impact of maybe cutting off the flow to the marsh areas," he said.

The question of whether to use oil tankers to essentially vacuum up oil from the water near the spill has been posed recently in the press, particularly by the former CEO of Shell Oil, and often with the follow-up question: Why hasn't that solution been tried? Allen addressed the idea of a tanker solution.

"We're talking about a fairly confined area in relation to how we'd operate large tankers," he said. "While the Gulf of Mexico is very large, where the oil is coming up is very, very busy right now with all the vessels that are on top doing drilling and taking care of trying to plug the leak.

"I was out on the rigs last week and I'd say within a mile of that point there are 22 vessels out there and there may be an issue with freedom of movement. There may be an issue with the depth of water where the oil is."

He added that the suggestion was worth addressing and that if using tankers is viable, that option will be considered.

Lastly, Allen said he wanted President Obama to see the clean-up efforts on the beaches. "I think everybody understands the technology involved in the subsea attempts to stop the leak, but the really manpower intensive effort is trying to keep the oil off the beaches and when it comes ashore it's a tough challenge, especially when there's marshland involved. And you can't always get there easily and surveillance is difficult. But he'll have a chance to look at that firsthand."

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