Another Perspective by Elizabeth Wellborn

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
Houma, LA


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.

Person Approached:

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.

Her Answer:

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.

My Question:

When do you think it will be safe to go fishing and eat the fish we catch?

Her Answer:

As I said, this is taking place a long way away from here.

My Statement:

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?

Her Answer:

[A smile]


Person Approached:

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.]

My Question:

Why can’t we use hay or hair booms as it has proven absorbency, is less costly and is biodegradable?

His Answer:

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.

My Question:

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?

His Answer:

[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.]


Person Approached:

A NOAA official who is tasked with leading wetland restoration in South Louisiana.

My Question:

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?

My Question:

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?

Her answer:

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.)

My Question:

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.

Her Answer:

Let me escort you to someone at BP to ask them (and I was escorted by the arm with her hand with a smile).


BP Representative

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?

His Answer:

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.

My Question:

[No question; just an utter look of disgust and disappointment]

His Answer:

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.

My dilemma

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.

My Sentiments

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.

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  1. This is unbelievable! I’ve been listening to a lot of radio podcasts about how all this is being handled. Coast to Coast AM and PRI Living on Earth are both excellent on hearing what is going on. What I hear sounds more and more tragic as time goes on. I’m sure we’ll be hearing worse in the future.

    1. It’s a case of the fox (BP) watching the hen house (Gulf clean up). As far as the hair and hay…Engineers didn’t come up with the ideas, they haven’t spent millions testing or years conducting studies, so it won’t work! Maybe when our country has to import the majority of our seafood from overseas they will get the wax out of their ears.
      For years Louisiana has been telling anyone who’d listen about the wetlands only to find it fell on deaf ears, or they just don’t give a damn.

  2. It is pathetic that the people charged with restoring wetlands etc. aren’t from the area and don’t know what they’re talking about? Why aren’t the existing organizations like BTNEP being utilized, if not leading in this?

  3. I’ve been following all this very closely, particularly on an information clearinghouse site on Weather Underground and at The Oil Drum, an oil-and-gas site full of professionals – geologists, engineers, environmentalists, etc.

    It’s clear to me that BP is engaged in behavior dedicated solely to protecting their sweet behinds in court and reducing their penalties under the law.

    As for the President, the bulk of the politicians and the various bureaucracies, they are either (1) totally incompetent, (2) dedicated to destroying the Gulf Coast, or (3) both.

    Now, that said, it’s also clear that the folks working on shutting in that well are doing their level best. They are truly amazing, and their technology is superb. I have no quarrel with them and nothing but admiration for their work. But from the beginning it’s been clear that BP’s role should have been to deal with the well and pay for the clean up – not to supervise the cleanup.
    The fact is, they don’t care. They haven’t cared about Alaska, or Texas City, or any of the other places they’ve despoiled, so this shouldn’t be any surprise.

    You don’t need me to rant. But I can tell you there are a lot of people getting really, REALLY angry. And the truth will out – we just need to find a way to sustain people while we get control of some truly bad processes.

  4. Awesome post! Enormous thanks Wendy. How are you guys faring? I have been thinking of all you great folks in T’bonne and keeping you in my prayers.

    To the Wetlands –
    Margaret S.

  5. We’re out here, Wendy – we just don’t know what to say. There’s such a mixed bag of emotions to deal with – pity, anger, hatred, resignation… And that’s just what I feel – I can’t imagine what goes through your mind being where you are.

    It’s reached a point now where it barely makes the National news anymore, because it has become a daily update of the same underwater pictures – “More oili escaping into the Gulf today …”

    I can tell you that I care, I hope and pray for the best, … but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Yet I can’t pick up and come down there to physically do anything – just a financial fact of life.

    Very frustrating, as I’m sure you know.

  6. Those answers sound very routine and much like the answers you get when dealing with any arm of a government agency. Smile, deflect and say you’ll find out and then don’t. Its very sad.

  7. BW, did you attend the BP meeting in Chauvin today? Just wondering what all was said. The local news had a segment of which I only caught a small piece. I quickly looked for you in the audience.
    BTW, I did see the Mayor of Orange Beach (?), Alabama blasting BP on National (ABC) TV.

    1. I think this whole post is about Elizabeth’s attendance at that very meeting. I went to one early on and watched grown men cry about loss of livelihood and BP didn’t even both to show up. No more meetings for. They are token gestures of patronization at best.

  8. I am praying for all of you with this and especially with the change in the weather that is forecast.
    My husband and I saw the weather tonight and I said “Oh God no”, not now. That will destroy the rest of the shores and push oil inland into the fresh waters”.
    My husband said he really doesn’t know how those on the coast of LA feel but, it had to be tearing them apart with worry.

    We have friends who work on the rigs in the Gulf and the moratorium is destroying their lives too along with the spill. The tentacles of this disaster is far reaching and devastating to thousands. Even our life has already seen repercussions from this and we live in north east Texas! My husband works for a corrugated paper/box factory and the business has dropped off considerably in the past few weeks. People who manufacture goods or ship them don’t need boxes if they don’t have anyone buying.
    No orders means no deliveries and shorter hours for my husbands company. That curtails our spending and it ricochets to others. Like dominoes, one falls, the others fall too.

    1. Wow, far reaching affects for sure. The moratorium is supposedly lifted now due to a New Orleans Fed. Judge ruling as such. Salazar said they will still appeal the judge’s decision, meanwhile there are those against deep water drilling because of the unsafeness of it all and are angry about more lives being put at risk. But what are we to do? American depends on oil. PERIOD.

      1. I hadn’t heard of the ruling but, as you stated: America depends on oil and finding, shipping, processing, etc., gives Americans jobs to feed, clothe and in general take care of their families.
        Ever think how similar the economy is to a traffic jam? The first car slows, the 2nd one does the same and before you know it, traffic is stopped and backed up for miles! And it sits there until that first car is on the move again and eventually, all of the jam begins to move.
        Same thing with the economy. First one thing happens, then that causes another to stop and before you know it, there is an economic traffic jam! And right now, BP is that first car! Trouble with this type of jam is, it takes months and years for it to get all of the “traffic” moving again!

  9. Each of us can keep the pressure on by circulating posts and updates like Elizabeth Wellborn’s.

    Thanks to The Cajun Boy (again) for the youtube of Kindra Arnesen from Venice LA.

    I’ve learned a new phrase from her: “ponies and balloons”. It came from BP briefings! The so-called cleanup efforts are shams/performances for the suited-up officials.

    Thanks, Cajun Boy!

    1. Egret, don’t have time to follow your links right now, but I worked in the oilfield years ago and I’ve said from the outset that they are wasting money on all these efforts to plug this thing as token gestures to make the public think they are doing something, all the while killing time, keeping us focused away from the drilling of the relief well, which is what they are stalling for to begin with. I imagine that is what “ponies and balloons” is all about?

  10. People ask me every day about this I tell them two things Bayou Woman’s blog and should of nuked it on day three. Starting to reek of fishiness even from here.

  11. I agree with Shore 100%. BP is doing whatever it takes to cover their butt, shift the blame and responsibility for this whole mess. Still you have to admire the ones actually doing the work of trying to shut that well down.

    That community open house Elizabeth attended was just a place for BP and others to speak in the language of Spin or Double Speak. I’ve noticed for years that when you ask a question of a politician, CEO or others at the top of the ladder, they sidestep the question, go off on a tangent and never, ever give a straight answer.

  12. If nothing else, I feel hopeful that folks who live in other places are thinking about advocacy in this manner. Thanks for posting.