Feds on Tour Across Gulf Coast

Representatives from the Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and BP have been traveling around Mississippi and Louisiana to take questions from scared residents. I attended the meeting in Ocean Springs hosted by the STEPS Coalition. I was mostly struck by the minimizing of the disaster and the impacts from the oil. Mr. Willis from BP equated the struggle of trying to stop the blowout to the heroics of the Apollo 13 engineers. The major difference between these two situations is that the Apollo 13 scientists were successful. BP had no plan in place to deal with this catastrophic failure and does not know how to stop it. On the clean-up efforts, Mr. Willis reported that 1800 fishing boats had been contracted and that 684 were currently working on clean-up. BP has SCAT teams, some type of super oil fighters that try to head off rogue oil from coming to shore. “Sometimes they get it sometimes they don’t,” Mr. Willis said. Apparently not, since we have reports as of today that tar balls have been found on Mississippi’s barrier islands and on shore in Pass Christian and Long Beach.The Coast Guard Representative, Rear Admiral Watson, said that the oil is not likely to reach in-shore environments. He stated that the response to cleaning up tar balls was fast and easy. RADM Watson also claimed confidence at being able to predict the movement of the spill. Certainly, he meant the surface oil since no one has been tracking the oil beneath the surface. Minimizing the persistence of the oil in the environment, he claimed the oil would go away when it was eaten by little marine animals. Unfortunately, oil just doesn’t go away. RADM Watson is correct that animals will eat the stuff, but then it enters the food chain and accumulates as predators feast on contaminated prey. NOAA representative, Buck Sutter, reassured the audience that NOAA was sampling the benthic layer (this is the layer of the ocean that all life depends on). NOAA’s focus has been sampling and testing to establish a baseline in order to accurately measure the direct impacts of the oil contamination. They have also been working on the turtle strandings. (More on that in a later blog.)OSHA representative, Clyde Payne, stated their focus is on worker safety and ensuring the protection of those working on the clean-up have the correct training. ATSDR is offering technical support to Federal and State agencies on health-based screenings. EPA representatives had the most to say since a majority of the questions were about how the BP oil drilling disaster was going to impact the environment. Dispersants were discussed at length as many residents are nervous about the toxicity of these chemicals. It seems that very little is known about them though approximately 400,000 gallons have been released so far. They discussed the subsea pilot tests and stated that BP has not yet been granted permission to release dispersants at the wellhead. EPA stated emphatically that they were in charge of the dispersant use, which begs the question: if the dispersants begin causing problems in the marine and human environment will the government be on the hook for those damages or BP?EPA addressed concerns about BP’s contractors collecting data assuring participants that the quality of the data was good. They did not talk about whether this data would be open to public scrutiny.

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