Investigation solves mysterious East Texas lake oil slick

Investigation solves mysterious East Texas lake oil slick
Swimmers enjoying Lake o' the Pines

LAKE O’ THE PINES, Texas (KLTV) - A mysterious slick on an East Texas lake is solved.

A little more than two weeks ago, neighbors spotted an oily slick on the south shore of Lake O’ the Pines near Copeland Creek boat landing, in Marion county.

Lake neighbors were alarmed when the oily substance began to show up on the shoreline when lake levels began to recede.

“This is something that hasn’t been here for the last ten years, but has been here since I moved in a month and a half ago. Concern is the grandkids are down there swimming in the water,” said lake-area homeowner Randy Jones.

A research team made up of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and TCEQ personnel investigated and found that the sheen is naturally occurring and caused by decomposition.

A number of things can contribute to this. Microbial bacteria, an algae bloom, even decaying organic material.

“Many things in the natural environment that can look like pollution. Things wash into the watersheds, organic materials and they can cause algae blooms,” says Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Adam Whisenant of the Kills and Spills team.

The shiny liquid gave off the appearance of oil on water, and stretched for about 300 yards along the shoreline.

We found the same oily slicks on pools near lake Gladewater, and again near decaying material.

"A combination of things can do it. The temperature of the water, rainfall, available nutrients," Whisenant says.

Iron content in the soil, leaves containing tannic acid, and bacteria start the process by creating pond scum.

"You can call it pond scum, a general term for it, and it may look like sewage or pollution," says Adam.

Though not harmful to humans, it can harm aquatic life by depleting oxygen in the water and causing a fish kill.

According to the research team, such organic non-petroleum sheen’s can usually be distinguished from oil by breaking up the sheen.

When disturbed, an organic non-petroleum sheen will break up into small platelets and contain no fuel odor.

If the sheen quickly tries to reform after being disturbed, it’s possible its a petroleum sheen and may be connected to a gasoline or diesel fuel smell.

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