Gulf Oil Spill: The Latest from Louisiana

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Published on May 1st, 2010  |  Discuss This Article  

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 4, 5:15 PM ET: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is threatening Louisiana’s shores — their fragile ecosystems and the tens of thousands of people who depend on those ecosystems for their livelihoods. Keith Ouchley, director of The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana, is providing us with the latest from the Louisiana coast and what the Conservancy is doing to help:

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Q: Keith, what’s the latest as of Tuesday afternoon?

Keith Ouchley: I spoke with U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel who had yesterday afternoon visited Bretton Island and the Chandeleur Island chain, which is an especially important habitat for nesting colonial seabirds such as pelicans and terns. They hadn’t been able to get to Bretton Island for a couple of days, and the island is historically a big nesting colony for brown pelicans. The good news is that there was no oil seen nearby the island. The nesting birds were doing just fine, and the majority of the island chain had had booms placed around it. Also, the booms are holding despite the rough seas. So no oil has reached the southern end of the Chandelier Islands.

Now, conditions can change, so we’re staying pretty vigilant — our staff is in contact with NOAA and USGS modelers who are looking at the currents and the wind patterns once or twice a day to get a good handle on where this is going.

Q: How is the Conservancy working with federal and state agencies that are responding to the spill?

Keith Ouchley: Right now, we’re in constant contact with our state and federal partners – the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, offering any help and support for them. The response to preclude as much damage as possible is massive – the U.S. Army and Navy are involved.

I can tell you that some of our scientists will be partnering with USGS scientists to do some sampling in the oyster reefs on the east side of the Mississippi River, to update their baseline ecological information in case the slick hits there. They update that baseline regularly, but they’re doing it again now before the slick might hit.

Q: People and nature are tied very closely on the Gulf Coast, and Louisiana, of course, has been almost besieged by natural disasters over the last several years. What have been local people’s reactions to the impending spill?

Keith Ouchley: First, I think people here realize that there is risk associated with the oil and gas industry in Louisiana. We’ve had it for 75-100 years down here.

But it’s the magnitude of the crisis that’s caught everybody by surprise here. A lot of people here make a living in either the oil and gas industry or in the seafood industry. Louisiana is the largest producer of shrimp, crabs and oysters in the United States. There is a lot of concern about this spill from those people, who had just started to recover from the hurricanes of the last four-five years. So it’s a potential human tragedy as well as an ecological one.

Q: Although we don’t know what the full impact to marine resources is going to be, what are the kinds of things Conservancy scientists are telling you we need to be concerned about down there if this spill comes ashore in Louisiana?

Keith Ouchley: There are a couple of things. One right now is that one of the largest nesting seabird colonies in this area of the coast is right in the path of the slick – and we’re right in the middle of nesting season. These colonial birds have young in the nest, and it’s not like we can shoo them away. So that’s an impending problem.

Alongside that would be the threat to our marine resources — the shrimp, the oysters, the crabs and so on, which are the cornerstones of the ecosystem down here as well as critical to our economy. The impacts to these resources could ripple through the entire food chain in the Gulf and have an impact on a lot of species.

Beyond that, we simply don’t know enough right now. When you’re dealing with an oil spill, you have to take into account the differences in coastlines and the kind of oil that’s been spilled. The oil in this spill is a light sweet crude – it’s not heavy tarry substance. It’s different than other spills that have involved heavier oils because it doesn’t have the concentration of pollutants of heavier oil.

And this is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and it will heal itself in time. It’s certainly going to be a tragedy, but I kind of liken it to a hurricane. You batten the hatches, tighten everything, get out of the way, then come back and assess the damages and devise strategies for recovery. The “hurricane” is just now hitting the coast and it’ll be weeks before we’re able to fully assess the impacts.

Q: How is the Conservancy working with federal and state agencies that are responding to the spill?

Keith Ouchley: Right now, we’re in constant contact with our state and federal partners – the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, offering any help and support for them. The response to preclude as much damage as possible is massive – the U.S. Army and Navy are involved.

I can tell you that some of our scientists will be partnering with USGS scientists to do some sampling in the oyster reefs on the east side of the Mississippi River, to update their baseline ecological information in case the slick hits there. They update that baseline regularly, but they’re doing it again now before the slick might hit.

Q: Are Conservancy projects going to be affected?

Keith Ouchley: We’ve suspended construction of our large oyster reef project in Barataria Bay on the west side of the Mississippi River near Grand Isle until we have a better idea of the impacts of this event. The risk so far to that project is pretty low, but we’re keeping watch on it now. We have reefs proposed to build on the east side of the river, the Bretton side, but we haven’t started those.

Q: What are your emotions about this? What are you thinking about as this tragedy unfolds?

Keith Ouchley: Things have quieted down a little bit since the weekend. But I think about how this is going to affect one of the most treasured ecological landscapes in North America. I wonder – when will it get back to normal? How long will that be? I know this place can recover. But the impact on natural resources and the human population of South Louisiana, which depends so much on these natural systems to survive, I worry about that and when we can get all that back to normal.

(Image: Louisiana coastline at sunset. Image credit: gail des jardin/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

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Comments: Gulf Oil Spill: The Latest from Louisiana

  •  Comment from Ricki

    I would like the experts at NC to comment on the use of synthetic oils over conventional. If the synthetics are better on the environment, ie. their manufacture? I think if the data is there to suggest them better overall, particularly as to how they are made (splitting of molecules not always being the best solution, as we’ve found in nitrogen fertilizers) then the word should get out to consumers to make the switch.

    If they are better, many environmentally conscious people would make that switch and the impact could be great.

    But we need to know the facts and weigh the effects.

  •  Comment from Mike

    Please detaill the economic consequences that the oil industry will face.

    •  Comment from Robert Lalasz

      Mike, unfortunately, we’re not experts in that area.

  •  Comment from Christie

    Are there opportunities to volunteer to assist in the clean-up?

    •  Comment from Robert Lalasz

      Christie, there might be. Our staff in the Gulf tell us the oil is just coming ashore, and the landfall will be unfolding over the coming days. We will keep you posted as to volunteer efforts — we just don’t know enough yet about the full impacts of the spill.

  •  Comment from sandra

    I would like to come to La and help. I do not need funding. I am very familiar with animals and particularly birds. Do you need help?

  •  Comment from Chris Litherland

    Why does it always take environment disasters like this to change peoples minds? Then in another 6 years or so people will have forgotten about this and it will take yet another disaster to wake people up.

  •  Comment from Susan

    Please explain this quote in the article:

    “And this is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and it will heal itself in time.”

    What timeframe are we talking about here? Millenium?

    How is one of the most fragile ecosystems in the continental US expected to “heal itself” from this manmade ecological disaster?

    What precedent do we have for the environment “healing itself” from a catastrophe of this magnitude?

    We have never encountered a spill of this size before.

    Every Cajun in LA knows that the barrier islands have been grievously impacted, if not destroyed, by industry and careless development.

    If you can’t read Mike Tidwell’s “Bayou Farewell,” listen to Tab Benoit’s introduction to his song “When a Cajun man gets the blues.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqv5PnKm-2k&feature=related

    Please tell us how to help, but don’t give us platitudes. This abomination will not “heal itself.”

  •  Comment from Reagan De Leon

    Interesting that the comments that are piling up on the FaceBook connection to this article, isn’t showing up here… There are only a few comments posted here… Sorry about that! Thought they were connected… I copied a couple of my comments from that line over to here too…

    My Earlier Facebook Comment:

    My heart cries for the oceans, the people and for our Earth… What are we doing to her???

    If we are so technologically advanced then why are we still reliant on this crap? I am so tired of hearing about the oil industry, their power and greed, and all of these disasters. Didn’t we learn from Exxon Valdez? Didn’t they? Accidents happen all the time. It’s irresponsible to think they couldn’t happen. Why weren’t these people prepared for an emergency? Why didn’t they try to cap the well as soon as this started? They were so busy fighting a fire that was being fed by the well. Why didn’t our government try to get in there and help stop this BEFORE it turned into this outrageous disaster?

    WHY?????

  •  Comment from Reagan De Leon

    And another comment I left on the FB thread:

    It’s time for action… It’s easy to stand around and complain about things or point fingers, but we’re all guilty of it and this mess in some ways. Not intentionally, because we need the fuels for mobilization, but the time for change is now.. Not 10-20 yrs down the road. We need the changes to happen now. And our country would do well to try to become the leader in those changes… We have fallen off our ‘high horse” in so many ways, if you will… We need to become a different kind of leader; a different leading country. I’m ready for it. I know many others are ready for it…

    I thought Obama was going to be a breath of fresh air for this country and be a new kind of leader and well, I’m just not seeing it. I know he’s only been in there a short while, but he seems so mired down in fixing this country and all the red tape that goes with that, that nothing really seems to be getting fixed. And I was so disappointed to hear that he agreed to more off shore oil rigging in our country…So so disappointed, Ice Cream Man… Who woulda thought the shy, skinny kid dishing out ice cream would turn out to be president one day? He’s already broken the history records by being the 1st black male to be elected president. Why stop there? Time to make some Earth shattering changes, Barry… Are you listening, Ice Cream Man? Who had a dream and went for it? Don’t stop dreaming now, bro…

    As for boycotting BP… Do it!!! This was reckless and irresponsible and downright cocky! I myself don’t have a car, so I can’t participate, but those of you driving can make a difference. And go deep. Look into everything BP has their hands in and boycott it too…

    Extra Note: In fact, boycott all of the oil industries! But take a good long look at ourselves too… They’re only getting rich because we demand so much oil and fuels. Ride a bike… Take a walk to the local store instead of driving a block or two for that snack. Look at the shape we’re in people! We’ve become fat, sloppy, or just plain lazy people. If we don’t have to walk, we won’t! So many excuses we make to not carpool or participate in one. We’re hooked on these fuels, so we’re just as to blame… Yeah, these companies dropped the ball by skipping safety measures, but seriously, these guys wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for our own demands for fuel. Someone needs to come up with better ideas for our energy needs and consumption… We’re not only killing the Earth, we’re slowly killing ourselves…

  •  Comment from Barbara Wilson

    If there is anything a lay person could do, please let me know. I am unable to come myself, but my son is strong and available. He does not need funding.

  •  Comment from Barbara

    I note a comment from “Mike,” above “Please detail the economic consequences that the oil industry will face.” Is this the priority question at this time with a crisis situation occurring to the wildlife community and the ecology of the area? Who cares? The wealthy oil industry can well take care of itself.

  •  Comment from Becky

    Hi,

    For those willing to help. From what I understand, several organizations are joining together to establish a single website offering information for people interested in helping. Their hope is to get the website functioning by Tuesday, May 6. As the Nature Conservancy is one of the organizations involved, they may eventually have the link to that site on their website. If not, please check crcl.org (Coalition to Restore Coastal LA) for a link.

    Because of the scale and nature of the response needed along with the delicacy of the habitat being impacted, one of the best ways to support this effort is to check out the website, fill out the volunteer form and physically respond as requested. Coming to the scene with out prior arrangement, no matter how well-meaning, can complicate response efforts and cause frustration for you.

    If you want to help without physically going to the gulf, check out the site to learn what is needed. Another way to help is to send monetary donations either to fund this specific activity or to support one of the participating organizations. Simply extending your membership to one of them is a great way to help as well.

    For companies wanting to donate goods, again please check the website for further information.

    I hope this helps!

  •  Comment from Brice

    I was watching CNN and seen a sea turtle having serious problems breathing because of this disaster. BP should be ashamed there response to this, I am tired of hearing excuses why are these oil companies not held to a higher safety standard, they only have one shut off valve? Wouldnt it make sense to put a few shut off valves in place incase the other ones didnt work? Common sense to me but then again I am sure it would invovle digging into there fat wallets and I would hate to see them have to spend anymore money. SHAME ON YOU BP.

  •  Comment from Jon Carl Johnston

    I have the answer to this problem if anyone is out there?
    First, you need to get rid of the idea that you can stop the slippery shit from coming out. Won’t happen like you are thinking, using the inside of the pipe. I was a pipefitter for many years and I’ve gone through this with water, in large irrigation pipes. The trick is to thread the outside of the pipe and clamp or thread onto the outside of the pipe only. Then feed the flow into another new pipe which has a straight through angular gate valve to shut it off, or open it as needed. This would be temporary until the new equipment can be re-established above it, then abandon in place the repair compression repair.
    The tools may vary, but compression clamps which are half
    and half clamp onto the pipe, squeezing down onto the pipe.
    Eventually the idea is to get the compression clamps and the body of the fitting to line up with a valve and shut the thing off. Most experienced pipefitters can tell you this.
    It’s not magic, it’s common sense!
    Good Luck America and the world too.

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