Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The ("Unsinkable") Titanic of the Gulf

(Picture Left: Mama goose and baby at Turtle Pond.)

Tonight, millions of Americans, including myself with be listening and watching carefully to President Obama's address from the Oval office.

What we don't need to see is political "theatre." What we don't need to hear is "feel good" Disneyland fluff such as "This will all be better in a year or two."

Recovery from the Gulf oil catastrophe is not going to occur in a "year or two" and that would be true even were we utilizing all available resources and throwing everything we have at it.

Reality is, however, that to this point, we have not been confronting this disaster with any kind of competence, as well as available and necessary resources.

As of yesterday, Parish President in Louisiana, Billy Nungesser, was organizing efforts to buy a bunch of "Wet Vacs" to vacuum up some of the oil spillage near the marshes. (Apparently, the comparatively cheap machines do a good job in sucking up the slime.)

The question is, why hasn't our government and the oil companies developed and provided more sophisticated vacuuming equipment to do the job?

Right now, BP is being made to look like the "bad cop" here (which it certainly is.)

But, it isn't just BP. -- It is ALL the oil companies.

Moreover, it is our government and the people who create the demand for oil drilling and essentially hired BP not just to drill at "Deep Water Horizon" but all over the Gulf.

One has to ask why this particular job was so "rushed" and pressured that many of the necessary safeguards were either overlooked or totally circumvented? Apparently, BP was "behind schedule" in drilling at Deep Water Horizon. They had other scheduled jobs after this one.

Was that due to company greed or pressure from our government?

There are many things we don't know here.

What is known is that numerous laws were either ignored or violated, particularly those regarding endangered species.

The oil companies apparently believe that Walruses and Sea Lions still live in the Gulf when reality is these species haven't existed in the region for 300 million years. One would think that even most fifth graders would know this.

Meanwhile, numerous endangered species survive or spawn in the Gulf, including brown Pelicans, Blue Fin Tuna, sea turtles, several species of endangered whales and migratory birds and even the American Crocodile.

Following a long-term disaster like this that results in so much destruction of habitat, many of these endangered species (and others) will be pushed to the brink of extinction, thereby affecting the delicate web of life and all-important food chain of which humans are a part.

Once oil gets into marshes and wetlands, it is impossible to clean up (unlike picking up tar balls from a beach.)

We were already losing hundreds of miles of wetlands every year before the Deep Water Horizon oil catastrophe.

As noted last week, wetlands are not just important for protecting endangered species or providing food or breeding sources for animals most humans eat (shrimp, oysters, etc.), but they are critical in protecting the mainland from the devastating affects of storms and hurricanes.

Efforts need to be immediately undertaken not just to try and protect wetlands and marshes from the current oil disaster, but to actually RESTORE them.

Queen Bess Island (main breeding ground for Brown Pelicans) was successfully restored when it became clear the state bird of Louisiana was about to go extinct during the late 60's. Similar efforts need to be undertaken NOW for the rest of the wetlands, marshes and barrier islands.

If the government and BP has been slow to react in terms of people losing livlihoods due to the oil spill or decimated tourist businesses, they have been disgraceful in terms of wildlife recovery and rehabilitation.

Dead birds, sea turtles and marine mammals being picked up far outnumber live ones by at least 5 to 1.

Moreover, recovery efforts are mired in bureaucracy.

Boats going out to look for wildlife, require one person from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, one person from BP and then one or two hired workers (usually fishermen).

What is NOT required (or even being utilized) are actual experts in bird rescue!

There are perhaps hundreds of bird organizations and sanctuaries around the United States whose members or actual employees are experts in bird rescue and rehabilitation from the Audubon Society to many others.

In some cases, representatives of these organizations have gone to the Gulf to help, but are being turned away!

As result, the so-called "rescue boats" are primarily picking up either dead birds or birds so drenched in oil that they cannot fly (in other words, the birds with a lesser chance of long term survival.)

Those people with expertise in bird rescue would be better capable of capturing those birds with small amounts of oil and still capable of flight. Moreover, bird experts would do so with less stress to the birds. (Rescuing for example, in the very early hours of the morning, such as 5AM when there is less heat and activity to stress out the birds.)

While bird rescue efforts may be starting later in the days than what is ideal or recommended, that is not to say that all BP workers are sleeping late.

According to several reports, (mostly from Turtle watchers, but at least one marine toxicologist), hired workers from BP are canvassing some beaches at night with flashlights to pick up the animal bodies of the dead. (Obfuscating, destroying or hiding evidence.) In some cases, heads have been removed from dead birds, thereby making cause of death very difficult or impossible to determine.

President Obama and some leaders in government are calling for BP to put 20 billion dollars in "escrow" to pay compensation to lost businesses and displaced workers.

Good luck in getting that.

BP can be expected to heavily "lawyer up" and use every means possible to get out from under this rock if it means spending the next two decades in court.

BP officials can take the Fifth Amendment during Congressional hearings. Indeed, they have entire playbooks to deal with media, public relations and presumably government officials and even the court system.

What neither the oil companies nor our government had (or has) is a playbook to deal with disastrous oil spills.

Like the "unsinkable" Titanic, Deep Water Horizon was too big to fail. -- PCA


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