Public Excluded From Critical Gulf Oil Spill Response and Preparedness Information

Unless you have an extra $849 lying around to purchase your registration for this week’s Clean Gulf Conference and Exhibition, you are not welcomed. If you don’t happen to live in New Orleans you can add to the $849 costs for hotel, travel, and any other expenses one might incur.  Anyone have $849 lying around? If so, I’d love to go.

Why is this conference important? According to the conference website, “CLEAN GULF covers spill preparedness and response topics for the exploration & production, transportation, and storage of oil & hazardous materials. According to the conference agenda, among the topics of the dozens of workshops and panels are: Response Research; Spill Risk Assessment and Spill Contingency Planning; State and Federal Updates; Dispersant Science and Communication; Training and Exercising for Readiness; Positive Stakeholder Management; Inland Response Perspectives; Understanding Complex Response-Related Issues; New Regulations and Implications for Industry – Projecting Forward; Enhance Response Capabilities through Partnerships; Response Planning for Non-Traditional Oil; Response Case Studies; Containment and Intervention; Crude by Rail; Subsea Dispersant Use, Planning, and Approval ; and, Response Safety Concerns.

Sounds important, right? Most of us can remember the debacle that occurred with the handling of the response to BP’s Oil drilling disaster in 2010 (in case you forgot, I have included photos to refresh your memory).

In May of 2010, President Obama stated to PBS Newshour: “For too long, for a decade or more, there’s been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore. To borrow an old phrase, we will trust, but we will verify.”

Also in May of 2010, in response to the overwhelming public outrage that ensued as the environmental, social, and economic destruction in the Gulf spread, President Obama announced the creation of the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (Commission). The Commission was given the important task of coming up with recommendations on how the U.S. can prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills that result from offshore drilling.” In January, 2011, the bipartisan Commission released a report titled Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling (Report), which contained key recommendations that are necessary to improve the safety of offshore drilling.

On page viii of the Report, the bipartisan Commission states, “…the disaster in the Gulf undermined public faith in the energy industry, government regulators, and even our own capability as a nation to respond to crises.” How can the public ever have its faith restored if it costs $849 plus to attend a conference about ‘spill preparedness and response topics for the exploration & production, transportation, and storage of oil & hazardous materials’ where the agencies charged with regulating the industry and the industry itself are giving critical updates?

On page 215 of the Report,  the bipartisan Commission states, “The American public, government, and the oil and gas industry need to understand what went wrong so they can pursue the changes required to prevent such devastating accidents from recurring.” Note, the specific mention of the American Public.

On page 268 of the Report, Commission Recommendation C3 states, EPA and the Coast Guard should bolster state and local involvement in oil spill contingency planning and training and create a mechanism for local involvement in spill planning and response similar to the Regional Citizens’ Advisory Councils mandated by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.”

Despite the recommendation, no such Council was ever created in the Gulf after BP. Feeling safer?

On page 269 of the Report, the Commission states, In addition, a mechanism should be created for ongoing local involvement in spill planning and response in the Gulf. In the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Congress mandated citizens’ councils for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. In the Gulf, such a council should broadly represent the citizens’ interests in the area, such as fishing and tourism, and possibly include representation from oil and gas workers as ex-officio, non-voting members. The citizens’ group could be funded by Gulf lease holders. The Commission further recommends that federal regulators be required to consult with the council on relevant issues, that operators provide the council with access to records and other information, and that entities (either in industry or in government) declining the council’s advice submit their reasons to the council in writing.”

In fact, every attempt by citizens to create one has been successfully opposed by the Oil industry lobby and their bought and paid for members of Congress including U.S. Senator David Vitter, the Republican candidate in the race to be the next Governor of Louisiana. In May of this year, I was told by Vitter’s staff at his D.C. office that he does not support citizen involvement in oil spill response and preparedness and that “another BP blowout will likely never occur again because the industry has improved safety on its own”.

According to the bipartisan Commission’s own assessment of its Report, “Chapter 5 also explains how woefully unprepared both government and industry were to contain or respond to a deepwater well blowout like that at Macondo. All parties lacked adequate contingency planning, and neither government nor industry had invested sufficiently in research, development, and demonstration to improve containment or response technology. Notwithstanding its promises in the aftermath of Exxon Valdez that industry would commit significant funds to support more research and development in response technology—through the “Marine Spill Response Corporation,” for example—those commitments were soon forgotten as memories dimmed.”

The Commission concludes the Report by stating, “Our message is clear: both government and industry must make dramatic changes to establish the high level of safety in drilling operations on the outer continental shelf that the American public has the right to expect and to demand. It is now incumbent upon the Congress, the executive branch, and the oil and gas industry to take the necessary steps”

My fellow Americans, you can either take the oil industry and government promises on face value, or you can pony up $849 and attend the so-called Clean Gulf conference, ask questions, get informed, and decide if we and our environment are any safer today than we were in April, 2010. If neither one of those options is adequate, which I expect for many of you it is not, I have some a recommendations of my own:

  1. Call or email the agencies listed below and, A.) demand that any future conferences covering issues and updates on oil industry response and preparedness and that government regulatory agencies will be in attending be made affordable for the public by charging not more than $50 for full registration; B.) Demand that a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council be created as recommended by the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
  2. If you are able to sponsor my attendance at this week’s conference, email me at jonathan@vanishingearth.org. I will attend as many sessions as I can and report back via vanishingearth.org.
  3. Share this post and stay tuned for more blogs and calls for action by Vanishing Earth.

United States Department of Interior
Phone: (202) 208-3100
E-Mail: feedback@ios.doi.gov

United States Department of Homeland Security
http://www.dhs.gov/direct-contact-information
Operator Number: 202-282-8000
Comment Line: 202-282-8495

Bureau Of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
Public Affairs: Greg Julian
O:202-208-6184
M: 202-412-8375

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Gulf of Mexico OCS Region & Atlantic OCS Region
Phone: 1-800-200-4853
Office of Public Affairs
Phone: 202-208-6474

Council on Environmental Quality (White House)
Switchboard: 202-456-1414

Below you will find a sampling of BP Disaster Photos that I shot in 2010:

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