Gulf Oil Spill: One Year Later, Marshes Still Have Oil

BP has spent $18 billion on claims and cleanup.

ByABC News
April 20, 2011, 4:18 PM

April 20, 2011 — -- A year later, you'd hope those blackened marshes, the incubators of most of Louisiana's fabled wildlife, would be green again. They aren't.

Motoring out to the same marshes they explored six months ago, ABC News journalists were shocked by what they found. The marshes still were saturated with oil despite the billions of dollars spent on cleaning. BP already pronounced that particular marsh clean, but oil oozed everywhere ABC News' journalists stepped. And it's embedded in the mud just beneath the water's surface – still reeking.

The company has spent $18 billion on claims and the cleanup, yet Louisiana wildlife officials say animals continue to be threatened by oil lurking in the marshes.

"They're living here [the marshes], mussels, birds ... in contact with this oil every day," said Todd Baker, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Asked if the oil remains harmful, even a year later, he shoved his hand in the mud, lifted up a handful of oil and said, "if this sticks to you, it'll stick to the birds. It's tacky and adhesive and the only way they can get it off is by ingesting it." He believes thousands of Pelicans alone have slunk off to die in the deep brush, unseen by rangers.

But, Mike Utsler, COO BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization told ABC News the wildlife is recovering and the seafood is safe, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has backed off her original announcement that the oil had dissipated.

In an interview with the Associated Press Jane Lubchenco the NOAA administrator said: "It's premature to conclude that things are good. There are surprises coming up."

"Pelicans are dying out here," said Baker. "You can't see 'em but they are. And BP saying the coast is clear, that just isn't so."

Louisiana has requested millions of more dollars from BP for restoration, but Robert Barham, Louisiana's secretary of wildlife and fisheries, says the company's first response is invariably, "no." The company has also refused to restore the oyster beds, saying in a statement: "BP is not obligated to pay for such damage -- because it was not caused by the oil spill."

"They say since freshwater killed the oysters, they're not liable, but we wouldn't have released freshwater had there not been an oil spill," said Barham.

And it's not just the marshes, dolphins and endangered sea turtles are washing up at 10-20 times the normal numbers. Just this past month alone, over 143 Turtles have washed up along the Gulf coast.