A mass of what the U.S. Coast Guard called “a brown oil substance” reportedly seven miles long has been spotted in Southeastern Louisiana, raising fears that BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to threaten fragile wetlands and marine ecosystems along the Gulf Coast.

Fishermen working in the vicinity just north of where BP’s Macondo well blew out in the Gulf in April 2010 first spotted the oily mass early Wednesday morning and alerted Coast Guard officials. The Times-Picayune reports that a fisher called to say he spotted oil about two miles south of Baptiste Collette Pass, off the Mississippi River’s east bank across from Venice in Plaquemines Parish.

Authorities from federal and Louisiana state agencies went to the site Wednesday to collect samples from the apparent slick for laboratory testing while the Coast Guard conducted an aerial investigation. Plaquemines Parish officials also alerted BP to the presence of the possible spill in the event lab tests confirm it to be a remnant of last year’s massive oil spill, which contaminated the northern Gulf with 200 million gallons of crude.

The Coast Guard hired the private firm Oil Mop LLC to begin cleanup operations if necessary. The company dispatched a number of barges and boats to Venice, the Louisiana town that served as ground zero for the Deepwater Horizon emergency efforts.

Immediate cleanup costs will be covered by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a billion-dollar account funded by a tax offshore drillers pay. The fund’s primary purpose is to pay for undetermined-source and other “mystery spills” that require immediate response.

According to Dow Jones Newswires, “Short of a massive explosion such as the one on the Deepwater Horizon rig, the sources of spills can be difficult to trace in an area that is crisscrossed with under-water pipelines and dotted with platforms and wells – many decades old.

Last March, however, federal investigators were able to determine that a large spill blanketing the Louisiana coast emanated from an offshore rig 30 miles offshore owned by Houston-based driller Anglo-Suisse. The company was made to pay all cleanup expenses.

Beasley Allen is currently investigating hundreds of claims related to the April oil spill disaster, which affected the entire Gulf Coast region. Called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, it may be years before the true scope of damage is known. The spill negatively affected industries ranging from commercial and recreational fishing to tourism and economic development, and took a toll on the health and well-being of people who live and work along the Gulf and depend on it for their livelihood.

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