BP official expresses need for industry overhaul
By Noelle Leavitt
Venice, LA — A BP official stationed at the joint information center in Venice, LA expressed regret and sorrow on July 5 about the oil slick, which continues to gush oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s disheartening to me, very much so,” said Jon Parker, BP operations section chief for Venice emergency response. “We know we need to do better, and I think you’re going to see a lot of changes in the oil industry because of it and how we not only get the oil, but also how we protect against it.”
Joint information centers are set up along the Gulf Coast, where a federal government official, usually a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, and a BP executive work as a team in insuring the oil mess gets proper attention and remediation.
“We’re operating in a unified command structure,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Frank Kulesa, who works in unison with Parker in Venice.
Although the pair work together in decision making pertaining to the oil disaster, the Coast Guard has ultimate authority over what happens with the clean up, Kulesa said.
“It’s an ongoing process. We constantly have to prepare for the next wave as we remediate what has already impacted the shorelines here,” Kulesa said.
The rehabilitation efforts for wildlife and the marshes is an ongoing effort that keeps Kulesa, Parker and hundreds of workers — charter boat owners, biologists, U.S. Fish and Wildlife representatives and hazardous material personnel — constantly on their toes.
“We’re in a unique position where the oil can constantly come, and we’re constantly fighting the tropical storms, the natural currents, trying to determine where the oil is going to go,” Kulesa said. “We’re deploying containment boom, using different strategies to keep it from getting into sensitive areas, such as the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, and then we’re getting skimmers down on the water to try to recover some of the oil before it hits shoreline.”
But no matter how hard they try, it’s virtually impossible to keep the oil from entering the marsh along the Mississippi River Delta, where Venice is located.
“A couple of weeks ago, we had a reprieve, where the oil had predominantly been moving towards Florida and Alabama, because of the winds. However it seems to be coming back our way, so we’re constantly looking for where the likely impact location is,” Kulesa said.
The delicate landscape of the Mississippi delta is home to a variety of wildlife. Small islands along Venice are nesting areas to various species of birds. One island in particular — Breton Island — was deemed a national wildlife refuge in 1904 by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Breton National Wildlife Refuge is the second oldest of 540 national refuges in the United States, and is located in a chain of islands 16 miles northeast of Venice. Extending northward toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast for 70 miles, it’s a nesting area for thousands of birds, including endangered species like the brown pelican.
Efforts to protect the island have been so extensive, that oil has yet to directly pollute the island.
“We’re averaging maybe two to three bird recovery a day, so we’re not getting the several hundred birds that we anticipated, at this point and time, which could change in the future,” said Bruce Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public information officer for Venice.
Yet that doesn’t mean the birds are in the clear of contamination. Brown pelicans continuously dive for fish in the oily waters, bringing home contaminated food for their babies, Miller said.
Protecting marine life from the oily waters is an enormous task, and BP is well aware of the ongoing problems it faces.
“I think it was an eye-opening experience for not just BP, but it was an eye opening experience for the whole industry,” Parker said. “And we’re here to do what ever we can to make it right.”