GRN has been engaged in systematic monitoring and reporting of oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico since April of 2010, with hundreds of field monitoring trips by air, sea and land. As such, GRN was invited to become a member of the Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC) which we formally joined in January, 2013. The GMC is a rapid response alliance that collects, analyzes and publishes images and other information from space, sea and sky, to investigate and expose oil pollution incidents that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Members of the GMC use satellite images and mapping, aerial reconnaissance and photography, on-the-water observation and sampling, and years of experience to identify, locate and track new and ongoing oil spills. Below you will find two sets of photos from recent monitoring trips.
The long-term goal of the GMC is to ensure that industry and government pollution reports are accurate, credible and understandable, so that the true state of oil pollution related to energy development is widely acknowledged and incorporated into public policy and decision-making. You can learn more about the GMC by visiting here.
The goal of the GMC comports well with GRN’s overall mission, to unite and empower people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico. GRN’s vision is that the Gulf of Mexico will continue to be a natural, economic, and recreational resource that is central to the culture and heritage of five states and several nations. The people of the region will be stewards of this vital but imperiled treasure, and assume the responsibility of returning the Gulf to its previous splendor. Yet, many challenges lie ahead.
The BP drilling disaster highlighted the dysfunctional process by which pollutant discharges are reported and cleaned up, and through which responsible parties are held accountable. It revealed how the official channels of reporting and cleaning up pollution rely on the polluters themselves in an absurd sort of “honor system”. GRN alone has filed at least 50 reports of leaks and spills with the National Response Center since 2010, including at least a dozen in the last month alone. Yet, there is very little transparency for the public to be made aware of responsive actions taken by the state and federal agencies charged with responding to these reports– another reason the Gulf is in desperate need of a Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.
On our most recent flyover on March 6th, GRN and GMC partner, Southwings, observed several leaks of some sort. Our flight, piloted by Dick McGlaughlin, took us from Lakefront Airport in New Orleans to several locations both inshore and off. GRN filed 7 NRC reports*** from this flight alone, including several from the Breton Sound Area. You can see a slideshow of the photos below. After having filed the reports, I had an extensive back and forth with the United States Coast Guard and provided them with pertinent information including time, date, and GPS tagged photos. Sometime late that Saturday night, I received another call from the USCG thanking me and informing that they would be launching a helicopter the next morning at 7am to go and check on the leaks that I reported. Although wanting to personally get on that copter with the Coast Guard so I could personally show them what I had documented, I did feel somewhat good and reassured that something would be done to find and stop the leaks and ensure that the parties responsible would be held accountable.
However, to my surprise, the following Monday I was informed that the USCG crew that went up was unable to find any of the leaks that I reported. This is frustrating if not infuriating because it was reported today that the apparent gas pipeline leak (pictured in the first slideshow) was spotted, documented and reported to the NRC a couple of days ago by On Wings of Care (OWOC). OWOC read the NRC reports I had filed previously and seen the pictures and took the opportunity to do a quick check on their way back inland after a separate flyover. So, if GRN and Southwings, and OWOC can find the same bubbling up leak one week apart, how did the Coast Guard miss it? The weather conditions on the morning of March 7th were perfect for aerial surveillance. This is precisely why the Gulf and the people of the Gulf need an independent, funded Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.
SLIDESHOW #1: Photos of leaks discovered on the March 2nd, 2013 GMC flyover.
GRN will keep you updated when we learn more from the Coast Guard, especially regarding the apparent ruptured gas pipeline. We are also following up with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources as they contacted me after having receiving the same NRC reports. It is somewhat refreshing to have been contacted by three different agencies regarding the reports, but the action they take against the responsible parties is what we will be looking for.
Finally, GRN has also been keenly interested in the ongoing impacts from the BP drilling disaster. Below are some photos from recent monitoring trips to Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle. NRC reports*** were filed for these trips as well since thousands of tar balls were found littering those shorelines.
SLIDESHOW #2: Photos of recent (January 27th, February 5th, and February 27th, 2013) oil impacts on Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle, Louisiana.
***NRC Report #’s from the March 2nd flyover are as follows:
#1039891, #1039892, #1039893, #1038986, #1039897, #1039898, #1039900
***NRC Report #’s from Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle are as follows:
#1039632, #1039633, #1037731, #1036581, #1036586
Jonathan Henderson is the Coastal Resiliency Organizer for GRN.