Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Return Trip to Site Where Oil Coming From Unknown Source Was Found Off Grand Isle

 Emulsified oil 1/2 mile due south of Grande Isle on March 21st 
On March 21, I returned to Elmer's Island and Grand Isle, where the day before I photographed oil and oil sheen washing into Caminada Bay . The Coast Guard confirmed that there was oil on the water on March 21, but still hasn't identified the source. By Monday only a small amount of sheen and foam could be found. Some of the oil had already been cleaned off the beach, some was skimmed, but a lot of what I saw yesterday had already made its way into Caminada Bay, a rich estuary. About half a mile due south of Grand Isle, we encountered  a plume of emulsified oil. Plumes were reported by Jefferson Parish officials during flyovers the day before. Also off shore, we spotted a young dead dolphin, adding to the high number already reported this year by New Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This new oil spill raises many questions: What is the source of the oil and is it still leaking? How much of it is there? Could it be connected to the BP disaster? Is it a good idea to restart deepwater drilling? Are the regulators regulating? Why are the polluters often not fined the maximum allowed and why do regulators let some code breakers get away without any penalty? And what is causing an unusually high number of young dolphins to die?  The answers are still up in the air, but the Coast Guard, NOAA and private citizens are all busy trying to get the facts.

Dead young dolphin found floating in the Gulf, cause of death undeterminedadding to the abnormally high dolphin mortality  rate this year. 
Emulsified oil 1/2 mile due south of Grande Isle on March 21st
Boom put out on March 21st across the cut leading into Caminada Bay, an rich estuary. Oil washed through the cut on March 20th. See video clip of oil getting in 

Emulsified oil 1/2 mile due south of Grande Isle on March 21st 

More Oil Washes Up on the Gulf Coast as One Year Anniversary of BP Disaster Appoaches

Wildlife and Fishery Agents Check out Oil off Elmer's Island 

The mayor of Grand Isle, LA, held a press conference Sunday afternoon to say that reports of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, which started circulated on Friday, are heartbreakingly correct. Oil was spotted by fishermen, residents and members of OnWingsOfCare.org, a non profit organization who flew over what they described as a slick 100 miles long by 12 miles wide on Friday. 

On Sunday morning, the Coast Guard still hadn't confirmed there was oil in the Gulf so I took a ride down to Grand Isle to see for myself. Finding the oil was easy. It took ten minuets by boat headed to the cut in Caminada Bay where Grande Isle and Elmer's Island almost come together. Oil was rolling in with the tide. I spoke to Wildlife and Fishery agents who had no doubt it was oil. It smelled like oil, looked like oil and felt like oil. Coast Guard were on the Elmer's Island beach, which is still closed to the public. A clean up crew seemed to be inspecting the situation, rather than cleaning. Later on Sunday the Coast Guard acknowledged that oil is washing up on Elmer's island, Grand Isle and Port Fouchon, but discounted reports of oil further up the coast; it is silt from the Mississippi River, according to the Coast Guard.

Where the oil is coming from is unclear at this point. If more is on the way and just how much was leaked, no one seems to know. Coast Guard Commander John Burton suggested the source could be oil that was released for 4-6 hours on Saturday while a drilling site was being plugged, but the investigation is ongoing.  After conducting tests, the Coast Guard said the Gulf waters are within acceptable pollution limits. But the fact is more oil in the Gulf is washing up on the coast less than a year after the BP oil spill. That didn't stop some beach goers from swimming and fishermen from fishing. "Call it Island Apathy," a long time resident said.

Click here for video of oil washing into Caminada Bay and here.

Grand Island beach with oil in the water
 Oil of Elmer's Island 
Cut leading into Caminada Bay where oil rolled in on 3/20/11
Boat passing through oil off Elmer's Island

Oil on the beach at Grand Isle
Oil on trash on the beach at Grand Isle

People swim on Grand Isle beach despite new oil washing up

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

GREED- Common Ingredient in Compounding the Horror of Natural Disasters and Crushing Human Rights

I will not being going to Japan to cover the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. The threat of radiation and living in fear of its consequences scares me. With Japan on my mind, I took a trip to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, home of the National Data Buoy Center, where tsunami detecting buoys are made and monitored, after reading they might be hit by funding cuts proposed by the GOP budget bill. A small story, compared to the nuclear meltdown. But the idea of cutting a program that protects human life made me want to research the Data Center myself.

The stories I've recently covered have one thing in common: GREED. In Haiti, builders put up shoddy buildings with no concern for the safety of those who inhabited them. After the earthquake. despite the contributions of so many people who wanted to help, aid never got to most of the needy. Lives were surely lost due to the misuse of money and outright stealing.

The BP Gulf Coast oil disaster was caused by a corporation that cut corners, costing 11 people their lives. No one is in jail for malpractice or reckless endangerment. And now countless Gulf Coast residents are sick from a new toxicity in their environment. Baby dolphins are dying by the dozen. Many who work along the Gulf Coast are going broke, not able to pay their bills or feed their families, yet the man responsible for deciding the outcome of the claims they've filed gets almost a million a month for his services.

At the same time I hear that Hillary Clinton has promised the military now ruling in Egypt 90 million dollars, I get a report from a friend that his friends are being jailed with no legal proceedings, no trials, no medial treatment. We supported Mubarak, an evil dictator, and considered him our friend; now the US seems to be following the same path with questionable leaders in the same county. And then there is Libya, where Qaddafi crushes his own people while the world stands by and does absolutely nothing.

Why can't we simply do what is morally right? Why is our foreign policy determined by people who profit greatly from relationships with those who crush human rights? It seems we support dictators to protect our flow of oil yet still have no new energy concept in the works. Are we governed by the possibility that the cost of fuel will go up again? I read that half of the our nuclear reactors are over 30 years old. Can we trust the nuclear regulators as we did the regulators of the deep sea oil platforms? It's best not to think too much about all the catastrophes that can occur, I remind myself. But it's very hard not to.
To read entry about the Data Buoy center scroll down to next entry

Tsunami Detecting Buoys Program May See Budget Cuts

Do we really want to cut the funding of our own tsunami warning system? The GOP's proposed spending bill threatens to do just that, slashing the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by as much as $450 million. And that will effect the work of the National Data Buoy Center at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where tsunami-detecting and weather buoys are assembled and tested. The buoys are part of the DART (Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis) system, which monitors buoys deployed around the world, sounding the alarm if America's West Coast is threatened.

There are those who are critical of the DART system. I spoke to officials at NDBC about a report recently published by MIT questioning DART's reliability . Is it true that only 60 per cent of the buoys are operational at any given time? I was told that those number were taken from a report made a year ago based on data from a year before that. Since that time, improvements have been made. As of March 14th, when I sat in on a morning briefing, 90 per cent of the buoys are reporting back.

The buoys have to stand up to extreme currents and weather conditions. But they are more likely to be damaged by humans or sharks than the elements. Their solar panels have been stolen. Large fish congregate near their nylon ropes, which fisherman have been known to cut. Fish gnaw on the ropes, eating barnacles that attach themselves to it. Drug dealers have used them to stash drugs and those lost at sea, for refuge. On-site inspection, repair or replacement, to say nothing of the shipping costs, don't come cheap, but do we want to do without a tsunami early warning system?

Someone mans the National Data Buoy Center 24/7. On March 11, shortly after the earthquake struck Japan, DART analyst Tracy Bourdreaux woke up and checked the out the data right away. Life at the Center has been busy ever since, with the aftershocks continually setting off the tsunami buoys.

Images: Top: Tsunami detecting buoys being fabricated at the National Data Buoy Center / Helmut Portmann, director of the National Data Buoy Center, with a tsunami detecting buoy Bottem: Tsunami buoys being fabricated at the National Data Buoy Center /Satellites that receive information from tsunamis buoys at The National Data Buoy Center / Message shown at the end of a National Date Buoy Center morning briefing. In the bAckground, a buoy in the Pacific Ocean /DART analyst Tracy Bourdreaux's chart of the 39 tsunami buoys / Tracy Bourdreaux , a DART (Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis) analyst looking at data from the tsunami buoys in the Pacific Ocean/ A weather detecting buoy made in the 1960's at the National Data Buoy Center, much larger then the current models/ Nylon rope used in the fabrication of tsunami detecting buoys/ Broken tsunami buoys awaiting repair / Nylon rope to be used with the tsunami buoys . The thicker pink rope is fish-bite resistant and used at the top of the buoy/ Computer electronics that make up the "brains" of the tsunami buoys