Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gulf Oil story continued --

May 24, 2010

A stop for shrimp, setting strategies for analyzing

By Paul K. Haeder
as told by Marc Gauthier

The last three days have been emblematic of what will be a blurry future for this area, the ecosystem, its people as well as the culture and all the commerce not directly tied to oil drilling, refining and shipping. It’s bleak, and typical of a disaster many times more catastrophic than the Exxon Valdez mess.

Gauthier and I continually discuss strategies about how to get under the skin of this story, his next filmmaking theme. He’s going to collect tar and runny muck samples, set up his own makeshift lab and begin seeing how this stuff reacts in a sealed glass jar and on coffee filter material.

It’s surreal, really, that some guy from Spokane has to ask the obvious questions in an area with more than 100 years of oil business history on the books.

Where are the State of Louisiana air quality control folk? Where are the nurses and medical teams? Where are the quick reaction groups checking in on the youngsters and old timers alike? A simple $20 oscillating fan could be a lifesaver for those living near the volatile organic compounds wafting into people’s humid, hot domiciles. He hasn’t seen nor heard of anything like that happening.

What Gauthier can attest to is that the only inhabited barrier island in Louisiana , Grand Isle, which is one of the biggest tourist and fisher destinations in the state, has become a sacrificial lamb to the incompetence of BP and all the other attendant agencies.

Marc’s talked to dozens of “oil men,” and while most don’t submit to on-camera interviews, they are loose-lipped when it comes to what went wrong with Deepwater Horizon and what the industry is doing to cut corners at the expense of workers (11 killed this time around) and fowled ecosystems.

The Gulf of Mexico, for the uninitiated, has more than 3,850 offshore wells. The ocean is a crisscross of varicose veins, pipes bleeding off oil and gas to get pumped to the mainland. There are fishing stories tied to those platform rigs, Marc’s learned. Stories of three football-field sized churning water appearing on flat seas – bubbles going 4 feet high.

“How many lost fishing boats has that created?” these fellows ask him rhetorically. It’s all bleed-off of gas pressure on those crude oil pipes – methane coming from a mile deep ocean, originating even much deeper from pockets of oil under earth.

There’s no talk in these parts of the global warming greenhouse implications of all that burning oil, let alone those continuous methane bleeds. That little miraculous gas is 27 times the greenhouse pollutant than CO2 is.

Worker after workers says the same thing to Marc – BP is in no way interested in collapsing or blowing up the wellhead hole because that’s the largest mother lode in the Gulf. “More than enough oil there for BP to pay for the mess and still make billions profit,” Marc said.

Saturday night Marc found some spiritual and intellectual respite, after being invited by some older folk on the island of Grand Terre to attend a shrimp feed at the Catholic church. “I interviewed local old timers who have lived out here for decades. They told me stories of how they used to collect their drinking water in rain barrels. How they grew cucumbers and sugar cane.”

This whippersnapper from Spokane was the youngest one at the fete, with 40 elders peeling shrimp and transfusing history and personal narratives into Marc’s blood. Just the day before, Friday, March captured some remarkable “old timer” tales while interviewing one fellow, 68, at his place near the sea. He’s seen it all after living here more than 50 years.

That Ken Burns moment was not enough, however, to keep Marc satiated. The oil is 2 inches deep, and he’s seeing those famous BP floating oil containment booms tangled up and washed ashore with no help in sight.

“Look, the oil is on the beaches, and the tidal action is now mixing up sand with oil. The oil’s covered up, and now with every storm coming in the next 10 years the stuff will just get churned up to the surface again.”

The process of recontamination years after an “accident” is the bane of the oil spill.

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