By Noelle Leavitt
Sticky blobs of oil lay upon the shoreline of Grand Isle, LA that is usually cluttered with children playing in the crisp ocean this time of year.
As the laughing gulls walk along the beaches, their webbed feet occasionally touch the polluting, pudding-like mousse that was breached from a broken oil rig nearly a mile deep off the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.
A portion of the contaminated shoreline is what’s called the “hot zone,” where tar balls and sticky oil pollute the beach.
Protective booms are spread along the shorefront, as well as signs posted warning the public to stay out of the effected areas.
Local residents now rely on BP for their income, said Grand Isle resident and home builder Wesley Bland, who has received two payments of $5,000 dollars in the last couple of months for lost work.
“This year was supposed to be a big year for me, better than last year. I have built 25 homes right here in Grand Isle,” Bland said. “I employ 17 people. Since the oil hit, I have six workers, and next month I may not have any.”
The father of four young children, Bland said $5,000 isn’t enough to pay his bills.
“You know, I put a sign out and I basically told (BP) to go to hell, but BP has came in and handed checks to all the local people, and continue to do so every month,” Bland said.
By Noelle Leavitt
Tattoo artist Bobby Pitre has much to say about the BP oil spill, but he’s not doing it with words — he’s doing it with gobs of paint on billboards outside of his tattoo parlor in LaFourche, LA.
Huge paintings of President Barack Obama, the grim reaper, and an amputated body cover the front of his business — Southern Sting Tattoo Parlor — allowing him to use his own form of freedom of expression.
“It’s just a way to vent your frustration,” Pitre said. “It could’ve been prevented with a few more safety steps, you know. But they chose to ignore it, to save a few bucks, well a few million bucks, still, look at what it’s costing them now, you know.”
He also has a mannequin, wearing a gas mask, holding a dead, oil-saturated fish standing on the corner of his storefront.
“My little girl loves to fish. That’s pretty much what it is, the fish are toxic now with the oil. We can’t go out and fish,” Pitre said.
Passersby honk car horns throughout the day, sharing their annoyance with Pitre about the BP oil slick.
“On the side of the road, I could scream a hundred times a week if I wanted to,” Pitre said, adding that his art is a more useful way to assert his disappointment with the oil industry.
“People are pretty upset. There’s a lot of people that are actually working out there. As long as they’re making money, they’re alright right now. It hasn’t really hit home because they’re not starving right now,” he said. “It should’ve been stopped a long time ago, it could’ve been prevented — that’s why I’ve got this painting right here, ‘Deep Water Drilling 101’.”
Inside his parlor he has three paintings: Two of BP CEO Tony Hayward, and one of
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindel. The Jindel painting is very supportive of the governor, and outside his shop Pitre painted “Bobby Jindel for President.”
“It’s pretty tragic the way it happened,” Pitre said. “Just the spill, the amount of oil that’s coming out is ridiculous.”
Pitre actually used to work in the oil fields. He was a welder and a fitter at the ship yards, so he’s very familiar with that end of it too.
Now, he spends his days as an artist, helping people express themselves with body tattooing.
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.”
Here is our tentative day schedule for the gulf oil coverage:
Tuesday: Grand Isle
Wednesday: Biloxi/Mobile area
Thursday: Pensacola area
Friday: Destin area
We are following several stories both National and local (to Colorado) and even a few hyper-local for our friendly neighborhood newspapers.
If you have need of content in any of these areas please contact Noelle and Jenn directly through our dedicated email:
This site is dedicated to the BP Gulf oil spill coverage of Noelle Leavitt and Jenn LeBlanc, two freelance journalists based in Denver. All content on this site is available for licensing, please contact Noelle or Jenn through GulfOilCoverage@gmail.com for information.
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Noelle and Jenn will be on the ground July 5, 2010 in New Orleans. If you have need of specific content, please contact us as soon as possible to make arrangements.