Will a Berm Stop the Oil?

Out of desperation, the state of Louisiana has decided to build up to 90 miles of berms to catch the oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill. Some of these miles and miles of sand embankments would repair damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The berm plan, which President Obama approved last week, initially involves building about 35 miles of berms in six segments—the longest of which, off the Chandeleur Islands east of the Mississippi Delta, stretches 13 miles. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina walloped the string of islands some 50 miles long, turning them into shoals.

Nobody’s ever restored barrier islands on this scale before, and certainly not at the beginning of hurricane season.

One scientist, at the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of New Orleans, says the plan has some merit because it’s easier to clean up oil on beaches than in wetlands. Other scientists, however, aren’t so sure. The berms may not survive a hurricane, or they may alter wave and current patterns enough to increase erosion in other areas.

No one really knows, just as BP didn’t really know what to do with an oil leak of this magnitude. This situation makes restoration into a bitter joke that we tell because we don’t know what to do except experiment.

Source: “Gulf Oil Spill: Louisiana’s Berm Plan Bold but Full of Uncertainty,” by Pete Spotts, Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2010