As the first tendrils of British Petroleum's massive Deepwater Horizon oil gusher lapped up on the bayous and beaches of coastal Louisiana, observers warned of a possible threat that could drastically add to the spill's destructive potential: hurricane storm surge. "If a hurricane encounters the oil slick now covering parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the result could be devastating, scientists say," National Public Radio reported on May 21 ("Hurricane, Oil Spill Could Be Troubling Mix," by Jon Hamilton). This year's hurricane season officially starts June 1. But forecasters already had their eye on a low pressure system off Bermuda on May 20, according to New Jersey's Gloucester County Times ("First tropical storm of season may be brewing in Atlantic," by John Barna). Meanwhile, the slowly spreading oil slick had touched on barrier islands at the edge of the Gulf, as reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune ("A month after explosion, oil from Gulf of Mexico spill washes ashore in populated areas," by Paul Rioux): "A month to the day after an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sent oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the first oil washed ashore Thursday in populated areas from Port Fourchon to the western edge of Grand Isle. 'It's not sheen. It's not tar balls. It's thick, nasty oil,' Jefferson Parish Councilman Tom Capella said. 'It's like when you were a kid and stuck your finger in the brownie mix.'" The Boston Globe's "Big Picture" blog has large-format photographs of the oil slick here ("Oil reaches Louisiana shores").
"Kerry St. Pé, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program in Thibodaux, La., which was hit by storm surges from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, says a storm surge would carry oil over the wetlands and deposit it farther inland," reports USA Today (" Hurricane season may make spill worse," by Oren Dorell). Click to watch video
Storm surge overruns beachfront roads in Gulfport, Mississippi, on September 1, 2008, in this Associated Press video. Scientists fear a similar hurricane surge could contaminate large areas of Gulf Coast with oil from the British Petroleum gusher, which has been out of control for a month. Even without a hurricane, ecologist's fear the impact on Louisiana's coastal wetlands may be disastrous. But throw a major hurricane into the mix, and the results could be almost as catastrophic to the human habitat. National Geographic has the story here (" Hurricane Could Push Spilled Gulf Oil Into New Orleans," by Christine Dell'Amore): "'Say the oil spill remained and [another] Katrina hit,' said Nan Walker, a physical oceanographer at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. 'The oil could be propelled onto land by the storm surge and monster waves.' Ron Kendall, chair of the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, made a more dire prediction: 'You put a major hurricane in there, you’re liable to have oil in downtown New Orleans.'" So far, the idea is just a disaster-movie scenario. But even the perceived risk of oil contamination has already begun to affect at least one local real estate market, according the Panama City (Florida) News-Herald (" Potential home buyers eye oil slick," by Scarlet Sims). Reports the paper, "Second home buyers are watching the growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico and asking for guarantees before buying a Bay County beach home, Realtors say...Several Realtors and brokers report home buyers are either shying away from buying homes on the beach or requiring a 60-day guarantee that oil won’t impact the beach before signing on the dotted line." And if private homes or other property are damaged by oil from the BP gusher, the damage most likely won't be covered by private insurance policies. A Louisiana court ruled last month that typical "pollution exclusion" language written into most homeowners insurance didn't apply to the Chinese drywall situation — precisely because those exclusions are clearly intended for another purpose: that is, to keep insurance companies off the hook for damage caused by industrial pollution like the Deepwater Horizon disaster.