Louisiana officials plan to ask BP to pay to dredge up miles of new barrier islands as a defense against the oil slick headed to the state's coastline, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Saturday.
The project would cost $200 million and take four to six months to complete its first phase, adding 43 miles to extend the Chandeleur island chain off the state's eastern coastline in both directions, said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, speaking at a press conference with Jindal. However, even a few days of dredging would improve coastal protections, he added.
BP will be asked to fund the project, Jindal said.
"It would be so much easier to clean oil off this (dredged) sand than to deal with in our marshes," Jindal said.
State and parish officials are seeking expedited permitting from the Environmental Protection Agency, and will also need approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, Nungesser said.
A BP well 50 miles off Louisiana's coast has leaked oil into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two weeks, ever since a rig working the site caught fire and sank. The slick has reached the Chandeleur Islands, and a heavy patch of oil is four or five miles off the entrance to Southwest Pass, the commercial shipping route into the Mississippi River, Nungesser said.
On Saturday, BP said a containment device it had lowered onto the larger of two leaks had run into a hitch, after the opening at the top clogged with crystallized gas and water. The company plans to take two days to remove the hydrates and determine next steps. One option includes injecting methanol, a chemical used as antifreeze, to prevent hydrates from forming, said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer. Containment dome technology has never been used at such depths before.
Jindal said the dredging plan is one way Louisiana can "prepare for the worst-case scenario" in case the well continues to leak for another three months until BP can drill a relief well cutting off the flow of oil.
Plaquemines Parish had drafted plans as far back as 2008 to expand its barrier islands to protect the coast against storm surges, but was unable to secure federal funding needed to begin the project, a parish spokesman said. Nungesser said Saturday that the dredging the parish hopes BP will fund can also serve as storm protection once the threat from the oil slick passes.