It Still Hurts My Heart

Tarball Chroicles David Gessner“The Tarball Chronicles] offers compelling images and vivid descriptions of the Gulf. Anyone who wanted a first-hand look at the Gulf after the news cycle ended will find it here, but this brilliant, thoughtful book will leave them disquieted.”
—Publishers Weekly

Radio interview with author David Gessner’s the Tarball Chronicles 


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Delta Dispatches – Ongoing Gulf News

With this blog’s postings tapering off – due in large part because I am personally not in the Gulf on an ongoing basis – I will post other sources those of you who have followed this blog might turn for regular information.  The following – Delta Dispatches – is one of the better resources I have found.

delta dispatches

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Strategy for Restoring the Gulf of Mexico

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in a sea of oil boom deployed to prevent oil from the BP oil disaster from reaching the Gulf Coast - July 2010

Life in the Gulf goes on below the surface and behind the scenes. A coalition of national and Gulf-based groups continue to work to change the way we see and think about the Gulf Coast and the greater Gulf of Mexico.  The following report was presented to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force last week:

Strategy for Restoring the Gulf of Mexico

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Not All Gloom & Doom

Florida Gulf Coast

I try to keep this blog balanced – not everything in the Gulf is gloom & doom, nor is it as rosy as some would like to portray.  On occasion I find a gem of beauty, a place that inspires hope and joy.  Such was last weekend with my great friend (and great pilot) Tom Hutchings.  He showed me from the sky a wetlands virtually untouched.  What I really discovered was an Other World.  A slide show of some of the images can be seen on my Gulf Photo Blog.

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Passing Blame


Several months ago I thought we had exhausted the opportunities to make jokes of the BP acronym.  Apparently not.  Now BP themselves have upped the ante: BP stands for Blame Passing.

On the eve of the anniversary of the Macondo oil disaster, BP sued Transocean, seeking at least $40 billion in damages and other costs from the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Not content to Blame Pass once BP also sued Cameron International Corp for negligence, saying a blowout preventer made by Cameron failed to avert the catastrophe – this despite the fact that the blowout preventer they knew was on the seven-year old structure was only a single-blade unit, not the current double-blade needed to cut pipe for such deepwater efforts.  If your suit suggests you (BP) did know the single-blade was insufficient that causes one to ask the question:  At what point over 5,000 feet did you not know you were in over your heads?

Both suits were filed yesterday in U.S. federal court, in New Orleans Louisiana.

The timing of the suits seem as equally insensitive as the recent bonuses paid by Transocean to their top brass; on the anniversary marking also the death of 11 men when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.

Granted BP has incurred tens of billions of dollars of liabilities from the disaster and would like to recoup a buck or two of that accusing Transocean of negligence, saying it caused the drilling rig to be “unseaworthy”.  A year on the blame game appears to be kicking into a new gear.

“The simple fact is that on April 20th, 2010, every single safety system and device and well control procedure on the Deepwater Horizon failed, resulting in the casualty,” BP said.

I spent much of yesterday on the water in Barataria Bay – one of the places worst hit by the incoming oil in Louisiana.  The BP media circus I had left behind last September was back in force, including U.S. Coast Guard.  One site we visited was swarming with over two-dozen BP contractors (plus the USCG) when only a couple of weeks ago the same site was quietly cleaning marsh with five souls.  Does BP simply not get it?  We can see through the charade.

BP perhaps study history and public relations. Remember Tylenol 1982? The media applauded Johnson & Johnson with positive coverage for its handling of the crisis; in the Washington Post said, “Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster.” The article went on to say, “this is no Three Mile Island accident in which the company’s response did more damage than the original incident,”  In addition to issuing the recall, Johnson & Johnson established relations with the Chicago PD, the FBI, and the FDA.  Yes, they worked WITH local officials.

Get that BP?  “effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster.”  

God only knows J&J had a major nightmare on their hands – but instead of acting like a manipulative mega-corporation leading with their legal team instead of using common sense and human decency – they chose to change the industry, become a leader, define the future.

Yesterday in Barataria Bay and in federal court in New Orleans you once again define arrogance, greed, and stupidity by Blame Passing.

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“We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us”

Pogo Earth Day poster

“Just please tell people that we are better now.  Please tell them to come and visit.”  She said in a sad lamenting tone.  Mary has retired to Grand Isle, an outsider come home to her place and she just wants it back the way she planned when she retired.

Three hundred and sixty-five days have passed since the collective poor decision-making and corporate greed took us on a national journey way from what was important and started a national dialogue about what is important.  For the folks on Grand Isle, the families of eleven men who died a year ago, and the rest of the Gulf Coast they just want things to be better now.

After a year my emotions are as chopped up as the Louisiana coast.

In the past week I have returned to many of the sites I originally visited in the summer 0f 2010, including Grand Isle late last week.  And the reality is you can’t see much.  From an image standpoint my work is done.  Not much I can show you.  Sure I can find bits and pieces here and there.  A boat trip out to Bay Jimmy or Grand Terre will surely illustrate something happened – past tense – but there is little there to illustrate what happened and what is happening, and it’s anyone’s guess what the might happen over the coming years – except for this – it will happen again.

That last sentiment is my own, but shared by many smarter folks than me who are much more connected to the science and technology of the oil and gas environment and industry.

Quit Searching for Blame and Accept Responsibility

The BP oil disaster is littered with opportunities for blame; there are hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed.  NOAA’s Troy Baker in the assessment division said last week, “No one has faced a region-wide oil spill before. We have a region-wide set of impacts, from the ecology to human use of the Gulf.”  In other words this is not just big, it’s huge.

A year’s perspective has revealed only one truth on which I can be certain – no one in America (or Canada, or Europe, or China, or anywhere else) is willing to take blame for the real cause of this disaster, and no one will.

Please read that again – I chose those words very carefully:

No one in America is willing to take blame for the real cause of this disaster, and no one will.

The perpetrators of this crime and the victims are all around us; we see them every day in our local super markets, hospitals, and schools.   I see them on TV, I read their voices on the web, I listen to them from the lectern of community meetings, and environmental rallies.  I read their words in  newspapers and in corporate and nonprofit annual reports.  I even saw them by the thousands this past Sunday at an Earth Day celebration.  I’m as guilty as anyone, more than some, less than others, but I share the guilt all the same.

“We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us”

Part of me would be tempted to end this post there and let that quote resonate, but it wouldn’t; maybe for me that’s why it does.

There is a certain irony that the most public use of the above quote by cartoonist Walt Kelly came in 1971 on a Pogo poster celebrating the 1971 Earth Day – and here we are 40 years later looking back at the greatest human caused disaster and scratching our heads to comprehend it.  That initial Earth Day was in part brought about by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil disaster which by comparison polluted California with less crude, but may have had a bigger enviro-political impact (in addition to launching Earth Day the EPA was also established after that disaster.)

Comprehend.  That’s what I have been struggling to do for the past year.  Not BP, or corporate greed, or political ineptitude, or environmental whining, or lack of scientific courage, but trying to comprehend Huge.

This year in the Gulf has shown me how big things are.  Funny thing is I thought I knew.  Somewhat arrogantly I thought I knew better than most.  After all, I spent years with African elephants—they are big, swam with various Moby Dicks over the decades—they are bigger, and soared over miles of lush tropical rainforest ahead of human hands—enormous.  I thought I understood huge.  But the BP oil disaster (no it’s not a spill, that’s what we do with milk or ketchup, this was a disaster) was huge; 15 times anything of comparable size says so, millions of marine life and 11 human families say so.

Huge is beyond our comprehension—any of us—and anyone, scientist, oil worker, politician, environmentalist, fisherman, or friend that says they understand is lying.  And in claiming they understand clearly proves my point.  No one understands this Huge.

The BP oil disaster was another step forward into the Abyss of Huge.  Huge is drilling five thousand feet to the sea floor and a further 18,000 beyond.  That is nearly Mt Everest, and no one comprehends that, even when you stare at it.  We have gone beyond our ability to comprehend Huge.  Huge is spilling 60,000 barrels of oil a day until it’s over two hundred million.  That is beyond our ability to comprehend.  The reason the media strains for people and pelican stories is because the real story, the whole story, is beyond our ability to comprehend.  It is too HUGE.

The frightening things is until we decide to tackle the concept of Huge – or be willing and able to break this thing in to truly big enough pieces we are doomed to wander in the abyss.

There is a reason we have to tackle Huge.  The world has always been too inextricably linked to fiddle with any single part in isolation, but we have, just in the past few decades, walked forward to the precipice of Huge with the accelerated way we live and function and waste as well as a result of our inability to stop reproducing tied to our carbon addiction.  Biting off little bits, like recycling our plastic bottles, just won’t cut it.  It may help you sleep at night, but your kids will have bigger nightmares.  We have to quit making plastic bottles—period.  We have to quit doing a whole range of things that we have blindly assumed were god given rights.  We have to face it – “You’re born, they slap you’re on the butt, you laugh and love, and you die.  All else is up for grabs.”

From last year’s disaster to coastal erosion, from the choking of the Mississippi River to coastal development of beaches and surrounding wetlands, to a litany of toxics and run-off waste throughout the Mississippi River drainage as far away as Montana and Pennsylvania, to a whole range of issues that link the Gulf Coast directly and indirectly, the abyss we have entered is huge beyond our comprehension.

So a year after the disaster at BP’s Macondo well I can confidently report – we don’t know shit, nor do we care – crudely painful, but the truth.  If we did we would have faced the “enemy” and begun the long hard process of changing who we are and how we live on Earth.  Show me one person who has?

Maybe we should stay blind in the abyss and repeat Mary’s words like a mantra until our deaths, “Just please tell people that we are better now.”

About the above image:

Cartoonist Walt Kelly first used the quote “We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us” on a poster for Earth Day in 1970. The poster is shown above. In 1971, he did a two panel version with Pogo and Porky in a trash filled swamp. This is the only example I know of with a balloon, indicating Pogo responding to Porky with “YEP, SON, WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”

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BP Oil Spill – WHAT CAN I DO?

blown pelicans

So you saw the oiled pelicans and Gulf beaches and marshes and were sickened - asking WHAT CAN I DO? Now the Gulf needs your help. Make it a one year BP Anniversary gift long remembered.Congress has yet to take the most important step toward recovery: BP penalty funds from the Clean Water Act (estimated at $21 Billion) must be dedicated to Gulf Coast recovery and restoration. It is up to each of us who cares about birds, wildlife and a healthy environment to support Gulf recovery. Audubon urges Gulf citizens to contact your Senators and Representatives to ensure that the fines BP and other responsible parties pay go directly back to the Gulf Coast. To divert these funds to any other effort or project will be as criminal as BPs fouling of the Gulf that initiated the fines - PLEASE - contact your state senators and congressman and tell them to support this action. Your voice can help the Gulf - contact you senator and congressman.

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