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Related Categories: U.S. | Environment & Forest Defense
NRDC on the Ground Reports of the Gulf Offshore Oil Disaster
by Regan Nelson
Thursday May 13th, 2010 4:59 PM
NRDC staff spent 10 days in the Gulf reporting on the terrible impacts of the offshore drilling disaster, which are devestating the livelihoods of fishermen and important ecosystems. We need agressive action to hold the responsible parties accountable and to help the people and environment of the Gulf recover.
After 10 story-filled days in the Gulf, I flew home yesterday evening. As the plane took off from New Orleans, I looked east out towards the oil-studded seas. While the thousands of boats involved in containment and clean-up activities were not visible, and no oil was to be seen on the water this far north, I swear I could almost hear the gushing and gurgling of still-spewing oil shooting its way up through the ocean.

It takes only 3 hours from the moment oil leaves the leaking well for it to reach the ocean’s surface.

That tiny factoid, which I learned from our meeting with Joint Incident Command on Monday, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new insight I was afforded by being on-scene. I have dozens of blogs in my head to follow on my experience in the bayou, but here are some of my initial impressions.

The Gulf of Mexico is a national ecological treasure. Hundreds of species, including some of our world’s rarest, spend some part of their life in the waters, marshes, islands and beaches of the Gulf. The fact is the Gulf contains 60% of our nation’s coastal wetlands. What I witnessed is that the Louisiana bayous are a magical labyrinth: as we wound our way through them to reach the open seas, the slithering alligators, bounding nutria, graceful egrets and ever-watchful herons cast their voodoo spell on us. The nation stands to lose something precious as the seeping oil unfurls its toxic fingers ever closer towards these wetlands. And what of the ocean waters, teeming with wildlife, which are already muddied with oil?

An American way of life is threatened. Ever worked a clock? Fishermen here do it on a regular basis. When the shrimping is good, 24 hours will fly by, nevermind the constant, back-breaking work of hauling in shrimping nets. The fact is that the Gulf is America’s second largest fishery, supplying 73% of the nation’s domestic shrimp, 67% of the nation’s oysters, and 26% of the nation’s blue crabs. What I witnessed was the dependency and love fisherman here have on the ocean. Many of the men I spoke with have been fishing for a living since they were 15 years old. They know no other work, and don’t want to. They are sure their seafood is the tastiest in the country, and the millions of tourist dollars they attract each year makes it difficult to prove them wrong. What will they do if the fishing never returns?

We must be vigilant. BP is the Responsible Party. While that is an official term, it works well to remind us of who we must hold responsible for this lethal accident. Right now, we must work to ensure that BP is doing everything possible to protect from harm the people, wildlife and wild places not yet injured by the spill, and to facilitate recovery and rehabilitation of those who have been injured. Here are things BP should be doing now in the immediate short-term, at a minimum:

BP must work with fisherman and others who are participating in containment and clean-up activities to ensure these workers know what documentation will be required for them to receive economic compensation in the event their boats are damaged during clean-up. This is not happening, and fisherman without proper documentation may not be able to recover the full extent of damages that should be afforded to them.

BP must consistently monitor air quality and other public health indicators on the water where fisherman are working, and alert them immediately if conditions require respirators or additional protective gear. The fishermen we know who are working in spill areas are not required by BP to wear respirators, yet we are not certain the air quality is safe.

BP must conduct extensive air and water sampling and make those samples readily available to government scientists so they can provide rigorous oversight of BP containment and clean-up activities, and ascertain when some techniques, like applying chemical dispersants, might do more harm than good.

BP must allow wildlife recovery teams access to all oil-affected areas so they can rescue and help recover any injured wildlife, and document potential mortality related to the oil spill.

The federal government has oversight authority over BP’s operations, and also has responsibility for ensuring BP is doing everything in its power to protect and aid those most at-risk from the spill. The federal government must provide transparency and opportunity for public input into their oversight activities so we as a nation ensure BP meets all of its obligations as the responsible party.

Please note: the original blog post on http://switchboard.nrdc.org contains links to many reference articles. You can also find dozens of other articles about the Gulf offshore drilling disaster on NRDC's Switchboard site.
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