Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sierra Club Gulf Coastal Monitoring Continues:

Barataria Bay

On Wednesday, July 21 a group consisting of representatives from Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Sierra Club Delta Chapter, National Public Radio and the American Birding Association set out from eastern Grand Isle north into Barrataria Bay to make observations of then current conditions. We traveled to Queen Bess Island, Grand Terre Island, and Cat Island. These islands are rookeries for Pelicans, Egrets, Spoonbills and numerous others. Our observations took place at a time when active inundation of oil had subsided for the previous three weeks. So we did not see oil on the water but were able to see oiled vegetation in island shorelines and some partially oiled birds. Some oiled boom had been washed up into the shoreline but was being left there for later retrieval. Partially oiled boom surrounded sensitive parts of the islands. Bird population looked generally good to my inexperienced eye but we were advised that overall population was down about 15 percent and that the worst effects on population would occur in the reproductive cycle when newly fledged birds try to make it through oiled vegetation and inner pools of water that have not been well cleaned of oil. Grand Isle and Barataria Bay have been some of the areas most affected by BP oil.

Freshwater Bayou

On Saturday, July 24 another group consisting of eight volunteers set out in four canoes down Freshwater Bayou which is west of Atchafalaya Bay and Marsh Island. The group split up, two boats going east and two going west paddling for several miles in each direction along the gulf shore. The water was very smooth and conditions were unusually favorable for paddling on the gulf. No new oil or affected wildlife was observed during the outing. The monitoring trip in the area of Freshwater Bayou is an area that has been consistently monitored by Sierra Club Acadian Group and Water Sentinals volunteers since the time of the BP disaster. This area appears to be doing well in response to only very light oil.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium

Documents prepared by the oil industry as environmental assessments for oil leases in deepwater show that blowout preventers have a predicted failure rate of 28 percent. Experience with blowout preventer malfunction on Deepwater Horizon and in numerous other cases bears this out. Conversations with working drillers indicate that the occurrence of well blowouts and near blowouts is much more frequent than generally reported. The willingness of big oil companies and workers to take these risks for big financial rewards does not mean that the rest of us should be willing to accept the same risks to devastation of our coastal waters and those portions of our economy and culture that depend on them. The drilling moratorium is a reasonable response by government to the BP oil disaster because many other deep water rigs are using the same technology that failed with Deepwater Horizon.

It is high time to evaluate the risks and our legal, regulatory and technical mechanisms for controlling that risk. The negative impact on local jobs is an unfortunate but unavoidable outcome to the necessary reassessment of the escalating risks of offshore oil development in deep water. Assumption by the oil industry of full financial responsibility in all cases would help to limit risk taking behavior and would encourage industry investment in safety technology. That is not the current situation. Currently the oil industry enjoys limits to its financial risk through a congressionally authorized $75 million cap on liability. So the taxpayers can be left holding the bag for substantial cleanup costs from large incidents. The taxpayers certainly have a right to regulatory control if they are expected to pay numerous and substantial tax subsidies for oil exploration and development as well as assume risk for cleanup costs. Indeed the failure of BP to invest in adequate technical capability to immediately stop the flow of oil from a deepwater incident clearly shows the need for more thorough government oversight and for greatly increased industry investment in safety.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t seek a timely conclusion or adjustment to the drilling moratorium. Louisiana jobs and the families they support are important to the economic health of our region. Unfortunately they have been caught up in a spiral of unchecked increase in risk for financial return. We think it is important to find a balance of financial liability and regulatory oversight that represents the interest of the taxpayers in protecting our coastal economy, cultures and environment from future oil disasters.

Haywood (Woody) Martin, Chair, Sierra Club Delta Chapter