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General News    H3'ed 6/16/10

Dead Dolphin Teeth, BP, PR, and Reality on the Gulf

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"We are allowing them (BP) to play with our livelihood here!"

Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, was almost stuttering to Anderson Cooper an hour after President Obama's address to the nation from the Oval Office. 58 days after the catastrophic explosion aboard the Transocean/Deepwater Horizon, and the subsequent release of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, there is still no coherent plan to shut down the leak, contain the oil, or respond to the damage done to the environment. There is a new estimate of up to 60,000 barrels a day flow rate. No one believes the numbers BP is providing anymore, and it is stunning that the President is willing to do so.

There is a deep distrust of anything British Petroleum has to say here in south Louisiana, and the President's claim that 90 percent of the flow will be stopped by the middle of July is being roundly criticized. If the number came from BP, there is good reason to be incredulous. In fact, BP has managed this catastrophe as a public relations and shareholder problem. Robert Reich makes a good case for this and questions the president's continuing reference to BP as an entity that will make any decisions based on the welfare of American citizens as opposed to it shareholders.

As citizens, we want the hole in the Gulf plugged up as fast as possible, we want the spill contained, and we want everything cleaned up and damages paid -- no matter how much it costs BP's shareholders. But if we're BP shareholders, we want to minimize all such expenditures -- including our long-term liabilities.

Get it? There's no conflict between Britain and the United States. The conflict is between two kinds of interests -- shareholder interests and citizen interests.

"There is no organization and no sense of urgency," Nungesser told CNN.

In one way Nungesser was very wrong. BP does have an organized public relations campaign, and it is mentioned in the "Recovered Oil Waste Management Plan" prepared by BP for the Houma Incident Command.

On the surface, the main purpose of the plan is the management of hazardous waste materials collected from clean-up activities--clean up activities that have yet to materialize in any organized fashion down here. The contractor mentioned is Heritage Environmental.

Written by the Houston office of British Petroleum, the document clearly states that the plan was developed at the request of the Incident Commander, and the US Coast Guard Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC). The FOSC is responsible for coordinating federal efforts with the local community's response. Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Watson is now the federal on-scene coordinator for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. He replaced Rear Adm. Mary Landry and is responsible to the president, as is incident commander Thad Allen.

The report specifically outlines the management of hazardous waste, but we have some evidence that "Recovered Oil Waste Management Plan" has not been followed in the case of dead wildlife recovery on Grand Isle.

This plan is to cover oil spill clean up activities associated with the Deepwater Horizon rig incident where the source point originated in Mississippi Canyon Block 252 of the Gulf of Mexico. Waste Identification/Characterization. Dead or Injured Wildlife. (United States Wildlife and Fisheries/and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to coordinate) Deceased wildlife recovered from the oil impacted areas will be managed by the department of wildlife and fisheries and will only be managed as waste if and when directed by that agency.

New Orleans photographer Jerry Moran and I visited a section of beach on Grand Isle on Friday, June 11. Moran wanted to show me the location where he photographed the head of a dead bottlenose dolphin on May 25.The dolphin was partially buried in a mound on the back beach, far from the tide line. When he returned on May 28, there were bones, but the dolphin was gone. Moran documented his visit.

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Dolphin head at Grand Isle, LA Copyright Jerry Moran

The decaying head was protruding from new excavation in the beach grasses. Moran said that the stench was so bad that he could not dig into the mound to see if anything else was buried there. After reading the report about mandated toxic waste disposal, it seemed important to document the burial mound.

Moran took us to a secluded area of back beach. The jetty had been partially bulldozed and jagged, freshly broken pieces of rock were scattered everywhere. Sand had been moved and the beach was freshly graded. It did not look like a natural beach and heavy equipment tracks were clearly visible.

Moran was certain that he found the location where he photographed the dolphin, but the mound was different and the head was missing. A decaying pile of redfish was nearby, confirming it was the same location.

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Wide shot, showing reference with back beach on Grand Isle Copyright Jerry Moran

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Decaying Redfish near dolphin site

Wishing we had a shovel, we used sticks to dig into the mound.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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