ON BARATARIA BAY, La. - With oil pushing at least 12 miles into Louisiana's marshes and two major pelican rookeries now coated in crude, Gov. Bobby Jindal says the state is working on chain of sand berms that would skirt the state's coastline.
Jindal visited one of the affected nesting grounds yesterday. Jindal and officials from several coastal parishes say the berms would close the door on the oil still pouring from a deepwater gusher about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
The berms would be made with sandbags. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is considering a broader plan that would use dredging to build sand berms across more of the barrier islands.
It is unclear if the area can even be cleaned. It is also unknown how much of the Gulf Coast will end up looking the same way because of a well that has spewed untold millions of gallons of oil since an offshore rig exploded more than a month ago.
A mile-long tube operating for about a week has siphoned off more than half a million gallons in the past week, but it began sucking up oil at a slower rate over the weekend. Even at its best the effort did not capture all the oil leaking, and the next attempt to stanch the flow won't be put into action until at least tomorrow.
Jindal said the state has already identified and started initial work on 40 sites for the berms, but will keep pushing for federal approval, which would free up Corps-controlled dredges for the operation. A single state-owned dredge was activated for the effort Friday.
At least 6 million gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf, though some scientists have said they believe the spill already surpasses the 11 million-gallon 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska as the worst in U.S. history.
In Barataria Bay, orange oil had made its way a good six inches onto the shore, coating grasses and the nests of brown pelicans in mangrove trees. Just six months ago, the birds had been removed from the federal endangered species list.
The pelicans struggled to clean the crude from their bodies, splashing in the water and preening themselves. One stood at the edge of the island with its wings lifted slightly, its head drooping - so encrusted in oil it couldn't fly.
Wildlife officials tried to rescue oil-soaked pelicans yesterday, but they suspended their efforts after spooking the birds. They said sometimes it is better to leave the animals alone than disturb their colony.
Pelicans are especially vulnerable to oil. Not only could they eat tainted fish and feed it to their young, but they could die of hypothermia or drowning if they're soaked in oil.
Globs of oil have soaked through containment booms set up in the area. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said BP PLC, which leased the rig and is responsible for the cleanup, needed to send more booms. He said it would be up to federal wildlife authorities to decide whether to try to clean the oil that has already washed ashore.
"The question is, will it do more damage because this island is covered with the mess?" Nungesser asked.
Officials have considered some drastic solutions for cleaning the oil - like burning or flooding the marshes - but they may have to sit back and let nature take care of it.