Friday, June 25, 2010

One Final Perspective

The total amount of fuel that I burned up driving down and back up the east coast, and all around the Gulf of Mexico is equal to the amount that spews from BP's well every four seconds.  (114 gallons) = 4050 miles, at a cost of $307.67, and at an average MPG of just over 35.

Day 7: On U.S. Coast Guard Complicity

        I had been calling people for the last few days trying to get onto a civilian or Coast Guard boat to visit outside the bay, but I was running into problems: just anybody can't take their boat out whenever and wherever they want. I'm not sure if it was mandated or not, but only BP or Coast Guard boats were out as far as I could tell. Those with boats of their own were likely either working for BP already, or just had no reason to go out to sea anymore at this unfortunately oily point. Ali Dutra, a marine biologist in Central Florida, turned out to be my one contact that could get me onto a boat. She was a friend from college in Rhode Island, who had come to Florida for her master's degree.
        When I spoke with her she referred me to her roommate who was in Mobile working with a turtle rescue program. This organization would have turtle sightings in the affected area reported to them, and then respond by boating out to the location, and marking it with a GPS. They would then either collect the deceased turtle, or if it was still alive, attempt to rescue it. Another facet of their activities was to locate and mark where there were nests of turtle eggs. If any oil washed up on the beaches where these nests were, there would be flags to mark their locations so that at least some might be saved, transported, or at the very least preserved. Ali's roommate Katie gave me the number of her supervisor, Erik Marten, who lamented that extra people on the BP contracted boats were not allowed. (all programs like Erik's are facilitated by vessels of opportunity working with BP under coast guard 'supervision').

         He did the best he could, by calling me back with the number of Ayla Kelley, a Coast Guard media relations specialist based out of the joint BP/Coast Guard staging area in Mobile. I had been playing phone tag with dead numbers, coast guard petty officers, and message machines for the last two days, and now late on my second to last day, I began thinking of more interviews I could do instead, but I finally got a call back from the elusive Ayla. She said she had been organizing many requests such as mine, and had been busy arranging imbedded media status for myself and several others like me on a coast guard vessel. Mrs Kelley told me that there was space on a boat tomorrow, Friday if I was interested. Yes, I assured her, I was interested.

           I was the first to arrive at 'The Boat Shop' at the marina at 701 Myrick street, in Pensacola. There, I met the captain, his son, and Wes, our Coast Guard Liaison. I knew right away that we weren't going to get to the impactful, tragic areas of the spill farther off coast.

          Wes was stationed up in Juneau, Alaska as a media relations officer working with the Discovery Channel program Deadliest Catch. He had arrived in Pensacola the previous day, and knew virtually nothing about the area or the spill. Already it was clear I was being babysat, but in no time at all it was evident that the Coast Guard had taken this opportunity to take care of nearly 10 persistent journalists, and had put us all on the same vessel of opportunity. At least we were promised ample time to try to catch a glimpse of something: a satisfactory 8 hours.

          One of these journalists, an independent videographer, clumsily stepped on the raw nerves of the captain as soon as she arrived:

         'Is this the vessel of convenience?'

         The Captain spat a bit as he replied… 'Yeah, convenient for you maybe.'

         He was formerly a charter boat captain who made the average for the area of $700-$1000 per group, including gratuities. These days he hauled oily cargo, laborers, government agency workers, and now journalists around to the various ships and work zones for BP.

         BP's standard daily wage for a vessel less than 30 feet: $1500 per day. All operating and docking costs are also covered.

         Needless to say, I was wary from the beginning. I doubted we were going to go where we all would have liked to go, a dozen or more miles out. But we got some of what we came for: we all were able to capture images of skimming, and not just a few oilfields, and islands of brown mucky sludge. However, the eight hour tour of operations we were promised, rapidly degraded into a 3 hour coastal sightseeing tour. We never made an attempt to head out to where the spill had reached in force. We weren't shown the burning patches of oil, the larger vessels, or any affected areas along the coast; only barren isolated brownish or rainbow patches of varying sizes a few hundred meters off shore, and a few small skimmers.

        The scope and scale of the spill is difficult to capture with nothing to show its' relative size, and no way to see what BP may be doing to try to contain it. The frustration of all of us, the so-called 'imbedded journalists,' was openly discussed below the deck of the Snapper Trapper, our host's personal craft. Nobody was mad at the captain, nor at the coast guard rep, whose unfamiliarity with this precise area was really just being used as a means to block our access.

        The journalists, including representatives from Bloomberg, the European Press Photo Agency, and other regional media, were more concerned with the conflict of interests between media access, and BP employed vessels of opportunity. It is more than a little bit morally reprehensible that BP expect its unwilling-but-desperate mercenary army of charter boat captains to restrict access to the site when it is precisely that access that might hold the company fully accountable. What may be worse is that the Coast Guard is helping to organize and supervise the song and dance.

           We saw more than a handful of different types of surface oil: rainbow sheen, a thick, dark layer, light brown circle patches, beautifully layered and striped patterned patches, as well as reddish tar clumps which leak a steady trail of oil-sheen off of their down-current side.

          Sadly, we saw the effect of all this oil on the marine life up close. We saw a pregnant crab swimming just under the oil-coated surface racing as quickly as she could swim towards shore, holding a claw-full of eggs under her belly. Not long after we witnessed a seagull, and a shark competing for access to a school of minnows, which may soon be few and far between.

         As I said, we turned back after only 3 hours and headed for a decontamination site just outside of the bay entrance. We came in without any oil on the boat, which is a surprise, considering how much of the stuff we drove right through.

         Photos that are being released by journalists in cooperation with BP are staggeringly pale in comparison to images that have been released of the spill from above. Only NASA, privately chartered planes, and helicopters have been able to illustrate the extent of the spill in the open ocean, where, several miles out in the Gulf, there are burning patches of oil, vast deadly surface pools of filth, and extensive, and random silvery sheens on the water, which have been and will continue to kill any wildlife they contact. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 6: On Futility and Secrecy

         After having tried to oust some good news or at least some concrete predictions for the future from Tulane professor Adam Babich, unsuccessfully, I realized something. This disaster is unprecedented, in terms of our history on this continent and perhaps soon in all of human history. What on earth made me think that anyone would have 'the answers?' What answers could I possibly expect? And as for a legal precedent, forget about it. There is no tried way to deal with anything on the scale we are seeing in the south. 
           The truth is that every time we fill up our tanks, we are asking in the smallest way for something like this to happen. We contribute each and all of us to the demand for what now seems only like viscous, black poison, and it would take an act of political courage not seen since Franklin Roosevelt to even dent our furious thirst.

        Despite the chaos and destruction that BP and the Deepwater Horizon have caused, even the affected region cannot divorce itself completely from its relationship with the half dozen other companies just like BP, who are currently lobbying to prevent Obama's 6-month deepwater drilling moratorium. You see, almost all of the coastal economies of the gulf states are engaged, to one degree or another, with either the seafood and charter industries, which are in the process of tragic collapse, or, ironically, with oil companies.

        The large percentages of coastal residents who are employed by the oil industry are torn between the obvious destruction at their beaches and in the bays, and the deeply important need to provide for their families. I am vividly reminded of Upton Sinclair's musing about how difficult it is to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. In this case, the residents of the coastal Gulf States are literally being asked to stand by as their employer destroys their homes and puts their future on the butcher's block.

        So what can the affected region do to at least try to keep up with the disaster? Well, not a whole lot, is the short answer. British Petroleum has recently developed a reputation for insensitivity, as is evident in comments made by BP President Tony Hayward, but another reputation has developed that remains quiet. That reputation is of secrecy and of a single minded dedication to public relations damage control.

        Not only does every 'vessel of opportunity' job come with a nondisclosure agreement from BP, but to even access a facility run by BP, you have to contact and be accompanied by a media relations representative from BP.

        After I left New Orleans, I traveled along the Mississippi and Alabama coastline, and it was the same story at each of the dozen or so BP staging facilities I tried to visit. I had access to the beaches, where orange-vested cleanup crews work fifteen minutes out of every hour (due to heat conditions) for twelve hour shifts which run day and night. But each staging facility, which are the bases of all these cleanup operations, was strictly off limits. Chain link fences establish the perimeters of these 'bases,' and large-scale metal shipping containers and dumpsters also formed a secondary barrier in a majority of these facilities.

         Dump trucks, backhoes, and people moved in concert with each other in these places, and an ambulance was on standby in every adjacent public parking lot (usually near a public beach access).

         At a particularly large-scale facility in Orange beach, Alabama, on the western side of Perdido bay, I was given the same story as many of the other sites: I had to contact Ashley Babb, who was the media relations representative responsible for much of the region near the Florida/Alabama border. She was then, and remains, unavailable.

          Frustrated, I parked illegally on the shoulder of the ramp to the bridge which spans the bay. I climbed up the incline and onto the guardrail and managed to attain a top-down view of the facility, including what was behind the quasi-fortified staging area. I saw a pile of bagged oil which was equivalent in size to an Olympic swimming pool, and in the distance, I could see an oversized turbo-diesel dump truck, which was responsible for bringing bulldozer loads full of oil-sand from the affected beach areas to the main facility.
          The company which was contracted to operate this facility for BP is Moran Environmental recovery, whose makeshift field office is pictured here with several pallets of Fiji water.

Wednesday, June 23; The Millbrook Independent

BP oil begins washing up on Florida shores

By Scott Maier 
Edited by Olesia Plokhii

for The Millbrook Independent

PENSACOLA—The westernmost part of Florida's panhandle had, until last week, not seen the effects of British Petroleum's April oil spill, the worst in U.S. history. But on June 11, Pensacola, the region's largest city, got its first foul taste.

Touristy Perdido key, a long, sandy island that stretches for miles along the coastline into Alabama, also showed signs of contamination.

BP's best efforts to stop the gushing well have, as of yet, been unsuccessful. Perhaps of more concern to many Gulf Coast residents, though, is how to keep the oil off the shore—and what long-term health affects the spill may reveal. 

The first major land to begin turning color as a result of oil was a stretch of beach 100 yards long at the end of Perdido key in West Pensacola, which prompted a recent 200-strong community rally and protest against BP. Angry community members who turned out demanded answers.

Among them was Darla Klein, whose daughter was recently fired from her part time job at the marina.

"My daughter was working down at Brown's dock for a fisherman, and now the owner is fishing in Texas and sending everything up here to his distribution center in Pensacola for shipping, so she's out of a job," Klein said. "And that's off the books too."

"How's she going to get that claim in to BP?" 

Tulane Law Professor and Director of the University's Environmental Law Clinic, Adam Babich, said claimants don't necessarily need legal working papers in order to be awarded damages by a BP panel or any U.S. court.  

That isn't to say it would be easy.

Babich said serious conditions resulting from oil-exposure, like cancers and birth defects, may be real—but they'll also be real difficult to link to the spill.

"A lot of people get cancer, and there are a lot of potential causes of cancer," he said. "Environmental contamination is certainly one of them, [but] trying to prove causation can be tricky."

And probably long.

As the sludge nears the coastline, while local concerns reach new heights of anxiety, residents receive few answers in return.  

Scott Maier is a Boston-based freelance journalist and photographer reporting on the oil spill for The Millbrook Independent.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 5: Interview with Adam Babich; Tulane Law Professor and Environmental law Expert

"Obviously it's going to keep a lot of lawyers in business for a long time" – Adam Babich

[Tulane University Stock Photo]

Scott Maier (SM): First Question: It has come to my attention that the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig was registered not with the United States, but with the Marshall Islands; My question is: Why does the United States agree to recognize British Petroleum (BP)'s compliance with Marshall Islands, or anyone else's, safety standards as sufficient for operation in U.S. areas?

Adam Babich (AB): I think the question may contain a misconception… If you are assuming that the Marshall Islands' safety standards are the ONLY applicable standards, I don't think that's true. Basically, when you're talking about maritime law, there are overlapping statutes, treaties, international agreements, etc., and there's a long history involved, obviously, because people have been sailing the seas for a long time. There are complicated decisions which are slowly becoming more modernized [in regards] to who regulates what. Historically the idea was the entity known as the 'flag state,' where whoever registered the boat was in charge. But that's been modified through the years, and especially in terms of territorial waters [200 mile zone]. So yes we do allow ships in our waters that are registered with other states, but that doesn't mean that we are unable to regulate them at all.

SM: So it's more a matter of figuring out the specifically applicable laws and going through established channels?

AB: I'm not aware of anyone who's suggesting that the oil pollution act does not apply to this. However, whenever you get involved with a complicated legal issue, sooner or later you're going to come up with a question that the law does not squarely answer. So, do I have any doubts that BP is liable for the money that the Federal Government has to spend to the threat of an oil spill? No, I don't have any doubt, but it can get more complicated down the road. Let's say hypothetically I've got some sort of side business selling things to tourists, and not as many tourists are coming to the [gulf region] because they've heard about the oil spill. Do I get compensation from BP? [This is a] Much more complicated question, and if you can answer that one, then you can imagine a more complicated one. The basic liability scheme is pretty clear… [But] there will be gray areas, and there will be room for creative arguments.

SM: Do you think this event will be cause for new laws, or a comprehensive U.S. Maritime law that can avoid some of these gray areas in the future?

AB: I can't predict the future.

SM: Are environmental contaminants that result in chronic disease, cancers, and birth defects going to be covered by BP as a 'reasonable claim,' or will there be resistance on the part of BP to pay a claim in the years or decades after the incident?

AB: If, for example, a worker is exposed to oil, or a fisherman is exposed to oil and then immediately gets sick and goes to the hospital: it's looking like a fairly clear case. If you're talking about someone who gets cancer in ten years, well, a lot of people get cancer, and there are a lot of potential causes of cancer. Environmental contamination is certainly one of them, [but] trying to prove causation can be tricky. If I have to prove an injury, and causation, chances are I'm going to have to prove that to a jury. When we don't know how to figure out an answer [by other means], we can ask a jury. I think it's almost a guarantee that not every claim will result in a recovery. It's also impossible to know what percent of these claims may have been legitimate.

SM: If BP goes bankrupt, for whatever reason, does this process just end? Or can people and businesses sue our government or another entity for any lapses in regulation or safety, such as the well known lax behavior at the Mineral Management Service?

AB: If assets from BP are not sufficient for the recovery, things get more complicated. Obviously there are more companies potentially on the hook [for the deepwater horizon spill] than just BP. However, the government is very rarely held liable for regulatory failures [legally speaking]. The doctrine known as sovereign immunity harks from common law where 'the king could do no wrong.' So the sovereign, the government, is immune from suit, except to the extent that the sovereign consents to be sued. There are some exceptions in the law, however, such as the federal torts claims act, which says people can bring claims [on the government]. For example that's where a lot of the post-Katrina claims against the Army corps come from. But there are exceptions to this governmental consent to be sued too, and generally it is very very difficult to fit a regulatory failure into that consent.

SM: So if BP goes bankrupt, there would have to be a willingness on the part of the U.S. Government to set up a system whereby the affected residents could establish the legitimacy of their claims and be compensated justly?

AB: Well the bankruptcy system itself doesn't just 'poof' eliminate debt and liability. There are gray areas and legal arguments within that system itself, and what other recourse might be available? I mean, if we are faced with that situation, presumably, we are going to deal with that and figure it out, but there is no single answer to that question. [As for the victims] we don't know what the government would do. For the government to spend money, usually that takes congressional action, signed by the president. You just don't know what's going to happen. When people are damaged, normally you don't go to the federal government for your compensation; you go to the court system. Now, under the oil pollution act there are provisions for federal money to go to some types of people,[ but general claims court is where the majority would go]. The case of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 exemplifies an instance where the government will actually decide to come up with a fund to compensate victims, but that's not something that happens as a matter of course.

SM: Businesses and individuals are making claims based on anywhere from three to ten years' worth of past employment and earnings records; my question is what can individual day laborers, and tip earning workers do as recourse without the historical data to support their claim?

AB: I have not reviewed the claims procedure as to how they are planning to deal with that, but there are a lot of possibilities to try to deal with it, which includes testimony.

SM: So even just based on your word you could attempt to go through the correct channels and have your claim paid?

AB: I'm not aware of the specifics of whatever claims procedures these guys may be using, but there is not a general principle in law that says you must have 'X' number of receipts or pay stubs in order to prove lost income.

SM: What do you think about the non disclosure agreements that BP is using with its vessels of opportunity that it hires to be working either with cleanup or as host to animal rescue teams, or researchers?

AB: In general, I have never been involved in a case where media or citizen access to the particular site of the contamination was legally important. You can imagine a situation where it would be important though, in the case of a telling photograph or words caught on tape. In terms of the contract itself, there have been quite a few reports about contracts, and some provisions have sounded abusive, and stupid, and I think some people have brought cases and gotten some relief about those things.

SM: Is denying access to the spill for media and citizens just BP covering itself as best as possible in order to not be set up for later legal battles, or is it safety based?

AB: It's always difficult to characterize somebody else's motivations.  I would imagine that the genesis of provisions like this is to make sure that you don't have injuries and liability for people who do not need to be there. On the other hand, once you start adding provisions, you might add a provision or two to keep access strictly limited [for other reasons].

Friday, June 18, 2010

2 Kilometers off the coast from Pensacola

This crab was swimming just below the oily surface of the Gulf no more than a mile off shore;

While this expanse of oil was stretching closer, just another 200 feet further out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 4: On Finding Obama

          This morning I woke up hot and sandy in my tent. I took a shower, changed clothes, and packed up my gear. It was too early in the morning to see the guard at the ranger station who had been so helpful, but I headed over to Mojo's Coffee Shop, which of course was open. Today was the day Obama was coming to town to talk to Thad Allen, and the governors of Mississippi and Alabama. He was to land at 11:30 in Gulfport two states over. He also planned on stopping in Theodore, Alabama, which is about thirty minutes south of Mobile, so that's where I headed. I passed Mobile and headed down to Theodore. At the staging site, a volunteer-turned-security-guard turned me around and sent me to another facility where the press was being sent to wait for secret service. There I met a man who kept insisting I was wasting my time by waiting to see if I could get in. Each time I didn't turn tail and run at his say so, he got a little bit madder. I could see him getting furious that I wouldn't just go away. But he at least said good luck and talked plainly with me about how press credentials work, and how to obtain them. Without those press credentials, and more or less unaffiliated with a news agency, I was turned around by the secret service at the press check in.        
         I began today hoping to get some answers from the President, but after I left the staging site in Theodore, I realized that although he is paying near total attention to the crisis as a whole, he couldn't answer my questions about laid off workers whose income is undocumented, or the questionable relationship between the Deepwater Horizon and its Marshall Islands registration. For those answers, and more, the next day I stopped in with Tulane Environmental Law Professor Adam Babich, who is also the director of Tulane's Environmental Law Clinic.  He helped me understand the way the tangle of interests might play out, who might profit, and who might simply lose out.  Check back tomorrow for details on our conversation.

Adam Babich teaches environmental law and directs the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.  Before joining the Tulane faculty, Adam was a Chicago-based litigator whose practice emphasized environmental and insurance-related disputes.  He has also served as an environmental enforcement lawyer for the Colorado Attorney General, as adjunct attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, as editor-in-chief of the Environmental Law Reporter, and as a judicial law clerk for the Colorado Supreme Court.  He has taught at Georgetown University Law Center, American University, and the University of Denver and has an extensive publications record.


(Pictured at Right) President Obama flying with Thad Allen over I-10 West in Eastern Mississippi, headed to survey the facility in Theodore and deliver a short address.





Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 3: Mojo Meeting House

         Florida mornings are quite confusing. If you can manage to fall asleep in the dead heat, you've undoubtedly shed excess clothing, and stayed still in the bugs just long enough to slip away into unconsciousness. However, a most startling shiver is what you're greeted with just before sunrise. Having sweated all night, once the temperature does drop your body loses heat quite quickly. It takes a good while in a hot shower to shake the shock of it off. Only after a core temperature reset can I begin wondering where to take the day.

          The first thing I needed turned out to be everything I needed: coffee. I stepped into MOJO'S coffee shop on a corner just before the bridge to Perdido Key's tall beachfront hotels. Although I didn't know it at the time, I would be here in the same seat for the next 8 hours. Shortly after I sat down, I realized I was sitting in on a revolving network of concerned individuals, the first of whom I met was named Darla. She volunteered here at the coffee shop a few days per week, but was currently just in to grab a cup of  joe. She introduced me to her husband, a firefighter at the local navy base, and they continued with their conversation about the goings-on of West Pensacola. Joining them was a charter fishing captain from England, and a surfer. They were talking over the issue of booms. Because of Florida's comparatively limited involvement with the oil drilling industry, the booms were not as heavily invested in as, say, Alabama or Louisiana. The problems that it's leading to now are two-fold: Even as the municipalities along the coast are running out of 3' boom, and are forced to use the less ideal 1' boom, existing lines have been getting cut by ignorant boaters who want to either enter or exit a harbor. The utter frustrated fury that this evoked was clear.

          Another problem, which many were currently concerned about, is the loss of income in cases of undocumented work and revenue. What happens, as an example, if you are employed as a waiter or waitress at a seafood restaurant and you can't prove how much of your income was from tips? And it's not just food servers who have this problem to consider, but bartenders, taxi drivers, entertainers, and especially fishing charter employees.

            But the deepest concerns, above all the problems and nuances of the implementation of compensation, are questions still much more fundamental: WHEN will it be shut off? And HOW does BP expect to possibly 'pay' for all the irrevocable damage it has already done, and continues to do to the many miles of Gulf Coast. They are fair questions, given the straining possibility of a BP bankruptcy, and the ugly, as-of-yet unsorted, legal snarl which includes not just BP, but Haliburton, Transocean, and even the Mineral Management Service, a U.S. government agency. These questions are important, but nobody seems to have an answer. I wondered if there was any good answer at all, but my input would have surely already occurred to everyone in the room.

           That night I thought hard about these problems, and wound myself up until it was almost 3 AM. Where can I try to answer these questions?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 2: On Meeting the Enemy

         As I was leaving at 6:00 AM, The Park Ranger at the front gate told me that if I looked hard enough, I could find all manner of oil rig worker in this town. Oil was a boom industry in a slow town ever since the sagging economy began to curb tourism revenue in 2008-2009. He said if I could find the right person, I'd hear all the stories of what actually goes on out there on those rigs, as if it's some unspoken regional knowledge that there's safety or other types of lapses.

            "If you let on that you're a journalist though, you won't hear a thing. Folks find out down here you're talkin' to the press, you're black balled in a hurry; nobody will touch ya. Best you just go and talk with people and keep your ears open."

             He indicated that to find what I was looking for, I could head to either of two spots near Pensacola to come into contact with either oil, or oil cleanup. I could head out to Fort Pickens, a hurricane sand-blasted old Civil War Fort at the mouth of a small inlet near the Navy base, or I could head past the hotels and restaurants on Perdido Key to Alabama Point. Alabama Point is closer, and if possible, I'd like to avoid the mid day sun when all the tar will smell twice as bad, so I head west towards the last bit of Gulf State Park before the bridge.

          When I pulled onto the sandy shoulder and got out, the first thing I noticed were signs with slogans like 'save our shore' or 'clean up your mess!.' The previous day, I found out, there was a gathering of 200-250 people demonstrating and pleading for attention from cleanup crews or local government officials or both. The day of the gathering, a series of crusty, globular mats of oil began washing up unceremoniously as a semi-viscous pat of sludge. This was the first large-scale grounding of oil in West Pensacola. There were thousands of them, all the way up to the size of a dinner plate. Off shore a bit, the globs seem rather solid, and stick together in chains and clumps, but as they get caught in the surf at the beach's edge, they show their true state: liquid. The chunks will stretch apart in the curl of a small breaker wave, or fly into oil shrapnel in the whitewash.

            My boots picked up two footprint sized tracks of oil at least two inches thick. As soon as I stepped into the sand, I had myself cemented to 2-inch risers that wouldn't come off until I scraped them off on a washed up palate. Even still, so much oil remains that my car will likely smell like diesel for months.

           I spoke with a couple on the beach named Cheri and Bill. They are locals, and we discussed the area and its current predicament, the anger they hold, and that the locals hold. They live in Alabama on the other side of the bridge, but they love to visit the park. I asked about the difference in tourist numbers and they sighed, because they know all too well, and I don't have a clue. Along the whole length of the beach 3 miles to the first hotel, there ordinarily would be thousands of beach-goers, tourists and locals alike. Today there was a sole grouping of tourists who were back-dropped by booms, oil sand, and in the distance: cleanup ships.

          "But that isn't even the worst part," Cheri said. "When tourist season is over we still live and fish here, and the money from the tourists is supposed to last in the slow season. We're not gonna get that this year, no way."

          Another man, who walked by just then, showed me a picture of a dead baby heron from this beach. It was taken the day before, when he had been a part of the large protest gathering. I looked at the sad picture; the only oil on the whole animal was a huge clod stuck to both its feet. The unfortunate fowl must have gone feet-first into a large patch, and not have been able to shake off the massive weight. I looked down at my own oily boots and the juxtaposition was quite frankly humbling.

            Before I left, a crew on a massive ATV drove by us, surveying the oil predicament, which only 24 hours earlier was not there at all. They surely were noting that the booms just off shore hadn't helped a bit. There were two strings of them, but there was a large gap between them, and the oil could also intrude around the outside of either one.              
            Cheri and Bill said that as per the established operating procedure, they would survey, and very likely be back on that beach in the early morning to begin cleanup of the affected 100 yard long stretch of beach.

Monday, June 14, 2010

PRESS RELEASE: June 14, 2010 MA state representative Steven Walsh of Lynn

           “A disaster such as this, while devastating on both environmental and financial levels, demonstrates the much bigger problem of the lack of regulation of these billion dollar oil businesses.  Limiting governmental interference in industry is a popular concept, but here is an example of a company with no regulation and no back-up plan for this type of catastrophe. I am in favor of minimizing foreign dependence on oil, but under the condition that this type of offshore drilling is regulated by the Federal Government so as to prevent another disaster from occurring.”
Chairman Steven M. Walsh
Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight 

Day 1: On Stepping into dire Circumstances

I arrived in Pensacola, Florida on Saturday, at 2:00 PM. Nothing seems out of place, nobody seems panicked, or awestruck, or even agitated. Life is going on as usual. But then the deepest wounds are seldom advertised so readily. I've been driving down the east coast for the last 6 days, camping and researching oil, and wondering what I was actually going to see here...

    I quickly found the end of a long crushed-shell gravel avenue and was greeted by a sign which read 'Thank you for visiting the real Florida!' This is the Big Lagoon State Park.

    I wondered what that was going to mean in the next few months, years, or…decades? Whatever the real Florida is in the future, I'm about to find out what it is right here and now.

Big Lagoon, I soon found out, is a protected shoreline which is buffeted by Perdido Key, an island almost 10 miles long, but only 100 or so feet wide at many points. The last mile or so is into Alabama, which, appropriately enough, is called Alabama Point of Perdido Key.

    I began asking about the spill in the ranger station as I was paying for the $23 campsite and filling out a form or two. His demeanor faded from congenial park ranger to a composed, defensive, honest, concern. He looked me square in the eyes and said rather declaratively,

"How deep into this do you want to go?"

I paused;

"Very deep," I replied, as confidently as I could (but lacking the credibility I desired). He eyed me cautiously, and a bit more openly, I added my true opinion,

" I want as many people as possible to know what I really see and experience, so that this kind of thing has as little chance of happening again as possible, and I don't really think that finding out about it on the news is honest enough for me."

After a moment he nodded and lent himself to explaining what I may see: folks crushed by the spill, whose livelihoods are gone, in all likelihood for good. I would be meeting denial, anger, perhaps violence; sensitivity, and a rash of other coping emotions. I gulped hard and nodded, completely unable to respond meaningfully. As is always the case in a localized crisis, I, as an outsider, cannot possibly equal or understand the emotions felt here, but I can empathize, and then write from that empathy. I can tell the truth and be honest to the people who live here in what I show to others.

    That night I got settled in my tent, sweating in Florida's wicked humidity, listening to all manner of lizard and insect saying goodnight. Through the mesh on the ceiling, the stars were shining dull through a humid haze, except where the palm trees blocked out the night, and two campsites over a man was playing Jimmy Buffet on a Ukulele, and I thought out loud,

This IS the real Florida…But for how long?