On Thursday, most of SEJ set out on tours around the Gulf, including rebuilding levees, restoring barrier islands and coastal marshes, fracking, and many more.
I went on a tour called “After BP” where we hung out with co-op Clean Gulf Associates, which owns a fleet of clean-up barges and boats deployable to due-paying members of their club.
Our group first visited their headquarters on the “West Bank” of New Orleans in Harvey, Louisiana.
The non-profit group started in 1972 and is made up of oil companies, drillers and extractors who operate in the Gulf. The more oil they produce, the more dues they pay. CGA will deploy their fleet whenever it is needed, and they have added additional boats since the BP oil spill in 2010.
The boat shown below is the Hoss Barge, a 174 foot Oil Spill Recovery Barge with an infrared camera and radar system to detect spills at any time of the day. The barge is just one of many vessels designed to pull oil booms behind it in a V-formation.
I also learned a lot more about the Gulf and oil issues. First, everyone in New Orleans calls it the Macondo Spill – the name of the actual well that leaked – not the BP spill or Deepwater Horizon spill. Secondly, there are 6,000 reported oil spills in the Gulf every year, with 98% of those categorized as small/medium with minimal environmental, wildlife and human impact. For comparison, the BP spill was categorized as a large+++ (okay so I might have added the pluses).
Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but the CGA insists that if a BP-sized spill happened now, they could have the spill contained in 6-7 days and the well capped in 203 days with their new equipment and fleet of boats. Since BP, the CGA has added 10-12 boats and given response teams and captains consistent training in case of another emergency.
Next, we visited another barge and a smaller Rapid Response Vessel (pictured below) at their small port closer to the Gulf of Mexico near Port Fourchon. The barge is another oil recovery vessel, and needs to be pulled by two tug boats while the smaller boat could be out hundreds of miles into the gulf in mere hours.
After we reloaded the bus, speaker Randy Comeaux took the microphone and told us all about the corruption and criminal activity that takes place on some oil rigs out in the Gulf. He is a whistleblower – after hiding secrets of chemical and oil spills from the government, the last straw occurred when his granddaughter got a chemical burn on the beach.
While the crew was cleaning oil from the side of the rig at night when the federal helicopters usually don’t patrol, Comeaux sent the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement after them (BSEE for short).
He was the only one of 30 to confess. Usually, people are so scared to lose their jobs they will lie to everyone in charge to keep them. Comeaux thinks that the changes have to be implemented from the top down so that the rig workers, who often aren’t certified in chemicals, rigging, electrical work, or any other job on the vessel, will feel safe reporting any spill.
His parting words hit the hardest: “Before we die, we will personally regret the oil industry in the Gulf.”
The last stop of the trip was the Shell Training and Conference Center in Robert, Louisiana, across Lake Pontchartrain in Harvey, Louisiana. (Side note: If you need some trivia this weekend, the bridge over the lake is the longest over open water (24 miles long) in the world.) This building houses new hires while they take a 2-year program to learn the ropes of Shell’s off-shore oil rigs.
The conference center also becomes an incident command center during any disaster. During the BP spill, the conference center housed BP, the Coast Guard, the military and other civilians for months.
Shell also has training facilities for accidents like helicopter crashes and the like. Below is a photo of a crash simulation where people who are strapped in have to break free and swim to safety.
Unfortunately, due to weather (that did not happen), our tour to the working rig was cancelled. Maybe next time!
Lastly, ICYMI, BP was finally found liable for the oil spill in 2010 today in court, and was charged with gross negligence. The oil giant could pay up to $4,300 per barrel spilled in fines on top of everything they have already paid. Well, duh.