LPB holds oil spill town hall in BurasAug 26th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: news
With the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico choked off for more than a month now, many questions remain in the public square concerning the long-term impacts of the BP oil spill.
Is seafood safe to eat? What are the long-term environmental impacts? When will the deepwater drilling moratorium be lifted? How will local fishermen and business owners be made whole?
Residents of Plaquemines Parish had the opportunity to ask those very questions to a panel of experts Saturday at the Buras Auditorium. Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) hosted the event, titled “Crisis in the Gulf: Louisiana & the Oil Spill.”
Panelists included LSU professor emeritus and environmental expert Ed Overton, BP Mobile Incident Commander Keith Seilhan, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, Secretary of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Robert Barham and Gulf Restoration Network Executive Director Cynthia Sarthou.
Charter Captain Shane Mayfield, who operates Adventure South Guide Service out of Plaquemines Parish, jump started the question-and-answer session with a question about BP’s long-term commitment to the region and its recovery.
“What happens three to five years down the road if the fisheries start to decline or my business starts to decline?” Mayfield asked.
Sarthou affirmed Mayfield’s concern, saying, “There is a significant potential that the damage from the oil and dispersant may not be seen for three to five years.”
In response, Seilhan reassured the panel and the crowd that BP has no plans to abandon the region anytime soon.
“We’re not going to do this as a side business. This will be a core business for BP for years to come,” he said.
Barham, though, juxtaposed Seilhan’s promise of a long-term commitment from BP with the state’s so-far unanswered request for a BP-funded, 20-year seafood testing and marketing plan. Barham emphasized that test after test has indicated that Louisiana seafood is 100 percent safe to eat. But, as Barham put it, “consumability” is not the same as “viability.” Barham pointed to the Exxon Valdez oil spill as an example of what Louisiana needs from BP.
“Exxon funded Alaska for a 20 year study. We’ve got to have a comparable study,” he said.
Talk over a long-term seafood testing and marketing plan for Louisiana seafood has gone on for more than two months. Under the state’s proposed plan, which would total close to $500 million, aggressive seafood testing would result in an official Louisiana seafood certification in the hopes of boosting consumer confidence in the product. The plan would also fund an extensive advertising campaign to help restore the Louisiana seafood brand.
So far, BP has agreed to fund a three year monitoring plan worth $13 million. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal thanked BP for that commitment but said it was only a start.
“This is only a first step and we need the next step to happen in the next days or the next week, not next month or next year,” Jindal said last week. “We have been asking for approval of our comprehensive seafood safety and testing plan for months now and the time to act is now. This is one of the most critical issues facing our state as we work to recover from the effects of this spill.”
In addition to the fishing industry, the current drilling moratorium was a topic of conversation at the Buras forum.
“My concern is that the moratorium is going to have a long term effect on domestic drilling. What’s being done to express urgency to President Obama for lifting the moratorium?” asked Tony Frickey with Venice Port Complex.
Conversation over the moratorium, though, centered on whether oil companies are any more ready now to respond to a massive spill than before April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Seilhan indicated that much has been learned.
“BP feels we’ve learned a lot about coastal protection during an oil spill,” Seilhan said, adding, “We want to get back to work here.”
Seilhan admitted BP has a vested interest in continued oil exploration in the Gulf. BP is the largest investor in Gulf oil exploration and boasts almost double the investment of the next largest company, he said.
Sarthou, though, said she believes resuming drilling now would only confirm for her that the Gulf Coast region is being sacrificed for the energy needs of the country.
“I think we need to take a second look at this. All of their [oil spill response] plans are false. They have not been able to meet any of their promises,” she said.
The crowd answered with resounding applause.
Kindra Arnesen, wife of a commercial fisherman and a local hero of the oil spill response, shifted focus to the environmental damages wrought by the spill.
Arnesen asked Seilhan to explain why more is not being done to retrieve oiled boom that has been pushed into the area’s delicate marshes.
“It’s as simple as a hook and a pole. Drag it out and get it out of my marsh,” she demanded.
Seilhan said he too had noticed the boom in the marsh during a recent aerial tour. He said BP is working to jump start a program that would use helicopters to gently lift boom out of the marsh instead responders in boats dragging it out by hand.
“Our intent is to expedite and get that program moving very quickly,” he said.
Although the forum lasted over an hour, panelists were swarmed afterward with additional questions from the crowd.