Dear Readers: Below is a blog post from the founder of For the Bayou, a non-profit organization based in California. Elizabeth is native of south Louisiana, and has deep roots here. At a time when I am almost at a loss for words and fatigued from worry, I would like to let her speak. It is lengthy, but please take time to read the whole thing to better understand what we face here. BW
Trip down the Bayou. Challenges we face.
by Elizabeth Wellborn
June 24, 2010
The country is disheartened by the lax oversight and regulations of the MMS, the complete negligence of BP, and the absolute inability for the government or BP to respond to this disaster in a more urgent, transparent, productive and coordinated manner. This oil disaster has killed 11 men, threatens livelihoods, a culture of people, an entire ecosystem, and a strong regional economy of our nation.
Oil from the BP spill is currently washing into the marshlands of South Louisiana. The damages caused to the wetlands have yet to be quantified. As it reaches and penetrates the marsh, it is close to impossible to clean. It is killing vegetation and habitat and it will allow more saltwater to intrude. Great effort and determination will be required to rebuild these wetlands and estuaries that provide over one-third of the seafood harvested in the Continental United States. Great effort will be needed to attempt to restore our beloved Gulf of Mexico although we know many species are surely threatened and will not rebound.
While in South Louisiana in early June, I met with business leaders, political officials, shrimpers, fishermen, environmental groups, agencies and attended a community “open house” by BP, the government and agencies BP has contracted to assist in the clean up. What I saw and heard were horrifying.
BP Open House; June 11, 2010
At the “Open House”, which is hardly a description of what I and others experienced, I was able to go around to each of the tables and ask questions to the representatives of BP and the government.
A NOAA official and an EPA official; both scientists and not from the area.
My Question: Why are there no health warnings posted about air and water quality? Our estuaries are connected. These dispersants can easily make their way into Bayou Lafourche, drinking water for the area.
Oh, honey, [she grabs my hand], do you realize how far away this is happening? It is over 50 miles away! I just think most people here don’t release how far away the site of this leak is from this area.
When do you think it will be safe to go fishing and eat the fish we catch?
As I said, this is taking place a long way away from here.
Tar balls washed into Terrebonne Bay weeks ago, only a few miles from where we were standing. If these masses of oil are here, don’t you think the much smaller molecules of dispersant would make their way in even faster, penetrating deeper into the area?
A Coast Guard official that was tasked with letting everyone know why all of the nation’s ideas of using hay, hair and other innovative techniques do not work. He had a bright orange sign professionally displayed with pictures of the many different ideas that all of us have been reading about and think that they are possibly using or maybe considering. [ie. My hairdresser in California who is mailing her clients’ hair down in boxes to assist in the effort.]
Why can’t we use hay or hair booms as it has proven absorbency, is less costly and is biodegradable?
These things just do not work. There is no way to keep them floating and are only novel ideas. The hard, plastic, orange booms are the only way to keep oil out of these areas.
But we have all seen demonstrations of them working, there are ways to keep them floating and there are dozens of warehouses that are filled with hair and hay, ready to assist. Why not at least try them? Also, where are these plastic crude and dispersant coated booms going after they are pulled in? A dump?
[He yelled at me] Mam, what really is your question?
[A scientist with NOAA was next to him and gave him a look; he walked away; she explained he was from Boston and is used to speaking to people that way.]
A NOAA official who is tasked with leading wetland restoration in South Louisiana.
Do you think our shrimp will ever rebound along Louisiana’s coast? Our shimpers and fishermen need answer.
Her answer: So, you have shrimp here. What species are they? When is their spawning season?
Where are you from? Who are you working with here to restore the wetlands? I am getting feedback that many of the local wetland restoration organizations, such as the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana or the Barataria Terrebonne National Estuary Program are not allowed to participate in the clean up or to assist with the wildlife?
Well, I am from California and I am currently trying to understand who the local organizations are involved. (This is almost two months after the oil leak began. Even if she was new to the “project”, which she was- to her defense she was here at that point for a week and a half,- but don’t you think BP or someone that was there previous in her position would have briefed her on the fact that there are shrimp in this area and would have given her a list of the amazing organizations that have been working for decades to restore Louisiana’s wetlands and actually know the local ecology? But, sadly there probably wasn’t anyone there before her. She was a NOAA contracted employee, and they were all stationed her to answer questions they themselves did not understand.)
Why is BP allowed to be in charge of dumping toxic dispersants almost two months after this disaster (totaling at that time almost 1 million gallons), into the ocean? We know it is toxic and it is the same dispersant used in Prince William Sound in Alaska over 20 years ago. Shimpers and fishermen are getting sick at the site of dumping while they are attending to the clean up.
Let me escort you to someone at BP to ask them (and I was escorted by the arm with her hand with a smile).
Fortunately, the BP representative was a nice young man. We went to high school together.
My Question: Shrimpers and fishermen involved in the clean up are getting sick. Why is BP allowed to use toxic dispersants and why are people involved in the clean up merely receiving surgical gloves without proper respirators to prevent inhalation of the fumes?
His Answer: BP is monitoring the air quality and the water quality. There is 0 VOC in the air at the site of where the dispersants are being dumped; at the site. There is even nearly 0 VOC when taking samples from the tied up hot plastic bags on the beaches that contain the oil covered suits on the shores. We punch the bags and take samples. The fumes are not toxic.
My Question: BP is monitoring? [Criminal running the crime scene]. We know it is toxic, both the crude oil and the dispersants. How can you explain people getting sick?
It is BP’s contracted agencies. The air smells really, really bad. The guys are working in really hot temperatures. We only average about 7 in 5000 people a day getting sick. That is a really low number when you think about how many people are out working.
[No question; just an utter look of disgust and disappointment]
I will be just as mad as you are now if in 10 years I find out that what they are telling me and the numbers they are giving me are lies.
I left home in utter disgust. Disgust from not only the spill, the damage, the helpless wildlife, the sick shrimpers assisting in the clean up, the seemingly oblivious government officials that are tasked with providing information to the community, the secrecy and negligence of BP, the worry that does not escape me for one day about my family and friends who are living in the area and are provided NO information about the health hazards that surround them, the fact that I know a six month ban on drilling will most likely prevent the region and the state from rebounding and could bring the region to collapse economically- that is one of the only industries left in the area-, the fact that my family will most likely be forced to move, the fact that jobs are being lost by the day and so is a way of life and a culture we once knew that truly lived off of the land.
While in South Louisiana, I heard rumors of women who are wives of men in the oil and gas industry getting together to revolt against the drilling ban. Their group is called the Offshore Revolution. The problem- the rest of the nation doesn’t want to hear about a bunch of women whose husbands are losing their jobs in the oil industry while simultaneously seeing the oil disaster unfold in their backyards; the rest of the nation is disgusted with even putting gas in their cars. But, guess what, most of us do.
I want to soften the drilling ban that will most probably lead to complete economic calamity in the area. I want to rid my life of plastics and all products derived from fossil fuels as it makes me ill to think of the dying wildlife and suffering people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Damn my cell phone, computer, flip flops, shampoo, garage door, household appliances, make up, pencils, TV, cables & electric cords, car, diapers, tooth brushes. Look around. It is everywhere.
We need to find ways to assist in this transition period for both Louisiana and our country in its dependence on fossil fuels for growth and move to a sustainable energy future. Our country needs energy to grow, our businesses need energy to operate, our citizens need energy for transportation- many of us generally spend a lot of time in the air in jet propelled engines or, daily, in our cars going to work, in an effort to grow our businesses or tend to our families (with little or no thought as to where this fuel comes from). We need to invest as a nation and, Louisiana, as a state, in harnessing and developing renewable energy sources. We need to evaluate our own energy consumption habits and use of disposable plastics as individuals. BP must be held accountable and forced to correct the damage they have inflicted upon the citizens of the region, the businesses and the environment. Industry must be held to higher safety standards and accountability. Partnerships must be formed to help rebuild a coastline that has provided so much to our country, yet has always received so little in return.
My Question as an environmentalist and a realist and someone from South Louisiana:
As business leaders, politicians and citizens throughout our nation, what can be done to a) continue a national agenda that decreases our country’s dependence on foreign energy production (Louisiana produces ~ 30% of our domestic energy supply), b) soften the impact of the current drilling ban on the already crippled economy in Louisiana to prevent an economic calamity cutting funding to much needed coastal restoration, health care, education and all other social services in the state, c) assist Louisiana in this transition period as one of our nation’s energy producers from a supplier of oil and gas to becoming a leader in the development and supply of renewable, clean energy, d) prevent further inflationary pressures on our economy due to the potential rising costs of energy due to the drilling ban most probably being extended e) Evaluate our individual footprint and begin to make a difference NOW. These are questions and issues that we need to address as business leaders and policy makers, as environmentalists and citizens of this country…for our nation and for the struggling citizens and businesses of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.
A bayou is a community living in harmony. Man and nature living in mutual respect for one another in a living, breathing circle of life that has been cherished for generations.
This harmony is being attacked on many fronts. We are for the wetlands as well as the roughnecks. We are for shrimp. We are for the shrimper. We are for crab. We are for the crabber. We are for the fish and the fisherman. We are for a way of life.
We are, quite simply, For the Bayou.