Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Orleans Oil Spill Story: A Footnote in the Annals of Oil Spills

On Saturday, August 9th the hull of the sunken barge was recovered from the Mississippi River. I was on location snapping away as the barge's stern dangled in the air. The remaining part of the barge was removed Sunday.
 The process started early in the morning and ended around 1 a.m., an engineering feat that took over two weeks to orchestrate. Oil leaked out of both pieces as they were moved but booms and skimmers were ready to clean the mess as it occurred (unlike when the barge "burped"
 and the clean up crews were unprepared). These images might seem to represent the end of the story, but they don't. Oil is still covering much of the river's , shoreline and animals are still getting sick. I plan to continue moniterring the clean up process until I head to NYC in September, making sure the crews are still on it and haven't been run off before the clean up is done.

In the history of oil spills, the one that polluted New Orleans on July 23rd wasn't a major one. When between 280,000 to 430,000 leaked gallons is defined as a small spill, it should give one pause. Even though this one is "small" it serves as a loud wake up call, reminding us our ecosytem is in danger when oil is transported. I wonder if anyone is listening?
The trail meant to establish whose fault the accident was begun on the 12th of August . The findings won't answer all the questions that still remain: Who will pay for the clean up? And will the river's coast be cleaned up as well as it could be? Which larger companies are the smaller ones subsidiaries of? Who is profiting from the spill: the usual suspects? Will anything be learned by those regulating the transport of oil from this incident or are oil spills just part of doing buisiness?

The best result would be if those involved in the process of transporting oil and those who regulate the waterways took pause and put more safeguards in places to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future -- a highly unlikely outcome since the politicians in New Orleans, LA and in the federal government have given this spill little of no attention.I went out on a boat with the coastguard in Venice at the mouth of the Mississippi the last time I shot the birds being cleaned at the temporary animal rescue center manned by the SPCA out of Houston.
Some oil has gotten into the marshes. I saw none on the booms set up there but the oil did make its way that far. The boat’s captain explained to me where all the coastal erosion has taken place, showing me an artificial opening in the river that is hleping to erode the land. The wetlands don't stand a chance if things keep on as they are. They might already be past the point of viable proection. The road names off Highway 23 say it all. The coast guard dock is just past Halliburton Road. Venice is an oasis for oil producing companies even though Katrina took out the town's infrastructure.

Filmmaker Phin Percy Jr. shot video while I was shooting the clean up work
. The crew featured is working for a company called Trident out of Boston. Most of the workers don't speak English. The foreman told me that before the New Orleans spill his crew had been in Iowa cleaning up after the floods a month earlier. They had to remove dead pigs which were bloated after days of being submerged in the water and baking in the sun. Environmental disaster cleaner: now there is a profession that seems one could obtain steady work in.


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