Paul Horsman is a Greenpeace campaigner, currently in Louisiana to assess the destruction from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Below is an update he sent from the bayou.
Here in the southern US the land doesn’t just ‘meet’ the sea so much as the land and sea ‘shake hands’ with fingers of land and sea curving around each other creating a coastline of inlets and bayous hundreds of miles long. It’s a unique flat land- and water-scape with willows, reeds, water lilies, and massively abundant bird and marine life. It’s a warm, sultry, slow and considered kinda place.
Access is by water which is the determining element here. Carey (a local skipper) showed me where he’d been born and raised right in the middle of the bayou, as a kid he was picked up by the school boat; his mother-in-law at 85 years had been still getting around in her small aluminium boat with outboard. He took us out in his home built boat. The water not only forges the environment and its wildlife, it moulds the people, determines their work and lives.
Even in the short couple of days that I’ve been here the tension and fear is palpable as the tragedy unfolds just 50 miles offshore and a mile deep. It is now 3 weeks since BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded killing 11 and sinking rupturing the subsea wells and pipes. The blowout preventers, which should automatically kick in to stop oil leaking, failed with the result that each day thousands of gallons of oil are haemorrhaging from the ocean floor. Each day since then, all of us have been scanning the weather forecasts, listened to updates, waiting and wondering. Waiting for the oil to reach the shore, wondering what the hell is going on out there and what this will all mean for wildlife, livelihoods and communities. Long after the journalists have gone – it is these that will be left to continue as best they can.
A woman at a public meeting on Thursday regaled a panel of EPA, coastguard and BP people asking them what about the future for her, her children and grand-children – ‘would you bring your family here?’ she asked. But by this time, the BP represented had slipped out of the door; although he was from New Orleans, he was clearly having some trouble trying to defend the indefensible.
So what is going on out there? Information is fragmented and often contradictory. Several attempts have tried and failed to stop the leak. BP has been injecting thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants into the oil underwater. These chemicals are themselves poison and serve to simply break up the oil so that some sinks and spreads further but thinner and less obvious. Hundreds of miles of booms have been laid in attempts to stop the impending black tide; huge trucks have created long berms of sand to try to protect holiday homes; straw bales and absorbent materials have been laid along high tide marks; military trucks and helicopters deploy people and equipment; captains look out over their boats now moored in harbour.
With deep sea drilling, BP is pushing the technology to its limits – this accident shows that they have pushed it beyond its limits. So too with the response to the spill. No one knows how to stop it; no one knows what the impacts are going to be of thousands of tonnes of crude oil spreading from the sea floor, injected with thousands of gallons of dispersant chemicals. Oil is toxic, dispersants are toxic and the combination is certainly going to have major impacts.
There is not just a tragic story unfolding here. Last October I was in Northern Canada where Greenpeace is campaigning against the tar sands – a frontier of oil development that is creating a big black mess. Down here off the coast is another big black mess as a result of another oil frontier development. In other words at each end of North America there is a huge black mess caused by the oil industry destroying the environment in their desperate grab for the remaining oil in the frontiers.
Even with these disasters the industry with the blessing of government, want to move into the fragile Arctic. Such short-sighted folly.
It has to stop. Although we cannot stop using oil tomorrow we know we have to move away from using oil and all fossil fuels as quickly as possible. This shift begins by stopping the oil industry from going any further. As the oil continues to haemorrhage from the ocean floor here in the Gulf of Mexico a clear message should be sent to the government and the industry – Stop oil exploration and shift towards clean sustainable energy sources which are the future – the oil industry is the past.
Image credits: First photo: © Sean Gardner / Greenpeace
Second photo: United States Coast Guard