Desperately Seeking the Missing Oil

One of the narratives that’s emerged in the last week since BP capped the oil leak (temporarily) is that media outlets are now questioning whether the whole thing has been exaggerated.

Exaggerated

Oil spill story was blown out of proportion!

Clearly, nothing major was happening there – we’ve been blowing this way out of proportion.  This amount of thick crude can easily be handled by the natural marine ecosystem just as other natural seeps 1/1000 the size of this spill…….look at all these news stories questioning the seriousness of the spill!

Living up in metro Atlanta, I can confirm that local media and national media have dropped the story for the most part.  Being NOLAderived, this is personally disappointing.

The oil isn’t “missing” — BP used dispersants, remember?  So these dispersants have worked, making the oil sink below the surface where it cannot be skimmed, and where it bypasses berms.  But as long as it’s not visible and skimmable, BP can’t be fined for it, or so the argument goes.   The problem is that the oil itself is still present but will surface in unexpected locations within the ecosystem, because of the use of the extremely toxic dispersant Corexit.

Oh yes, there’s that — the dispersant is extremely toxic.  Allegedly many of the cleanup workers from the Valdez are now dead.

So it’s up to us, as consumers of media, to demand that we continue to hold BP’s feet to the fire.  The major media appear ready to allow the company’s plan for subterfuge to succeed, distracting us from the effects the oil is having on our environment in an effort to limit the liability cost.

The health and future of the Gulf depends on you.

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Engineering Failure

Something that still chaps my hide is the “Katrina Fatigue” expressed among much of the USA. In my opinion, this is at least partially attributable to conservative talk-show hosts such as Neal Boortz who paint a picture of New Orleanians as whiners asking for handouts. This is as deplorable an accusation now as it was when it was made.

One thing people seem to forget is that this was not a natural disaster. Sure, in Mississippi it was, but NOT in New Orleans. By the time it hit New Orleans, Katrina was a category 3 storm. Katrina, in no uncertain terms, was an engineering failure:

New Orleans’ levees failed during Hurricane Katrina because federal engineers for decades did not anticipate the potential height of storm waters and underestimated the strength required to hold them back, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded Thursday.

“That is a very sobering thing for us,” said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the corps chief. “This is the first instance of a failure of a corps design of any significance.”

The Louisiana coast — the marshes now being destroyed by oil, the New Orleans area, etc. — has long martyred itself to produce seafood and oil. Notice the conglomeration of platforms:

Gulf Coast oil platforms

Louisiana was recently granted up to 37% of the royalties from allowing offshore drilling – only raised that “high” after Katrina.  That was only supposed to kick in by 2017, by the way.  So they’re asking for it to increase sooner, to help with coastal restoration.  The kicker is that Texas has long received 50%.

So don’t let anyone tell you that Louisianians or New Orleanians are “parasites.”  They’ve allowed their natural resources to be exploited on behalf of the rest of the USA for decades.

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Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season generally brings a sense of foreboding in New Orleans due to the risk of living in a bowl.  Before 2005, this was a general sense of hypothetical doom, occasionally made more tangible by newspaper articles about the threat to the area.  For example, in 2002 the Times-Picayune published a frequently-cited series called “Washing Away.”  The city is approximately 49% below sea level, and that which isn’t is barely above sea level–well below the level of the Mississippi River propped up between levees adjacent to it.  So New Orleanians knew they reside in a risky environment, but over time they grew complacent about the risk because of so many evacuations “for nothing” during prior storms.  As we all know, this complacency among some was mixed with lack of resources among others, and that gumbo turned deadly on August 29, 2005.

This year, hurricane season brings added peril: oil.  What will happen if the oil slick is passed over by a powerful Katrina-like hurricane is anyone’s guess, so of course many people are throwing out hypotheses.  Though some are already speculating that oil rain may occur because the dispersants being sprayed may make the oil thinner and  blend it with evaporating water, the more obvious risk is if oily water is pushed over the coastline by storm surge.

Hurricane Alex recently passed well to the southwest of the spill, but even the 3-4 foot waves it caused in the north central Gulf brought tar balls to the Mississippi coast which was the worst they’ve seen of the disaster.  So if a hurricane were to come closer, and possibly with stronger winds if it traveled over the open gulf, the concern is that New Orleans could be in the path of yet another catastrophic disaster.   The nearby coastal communities in Louisiana and Mississippi are already experiencing their second or third (counting Rita) disaster in five years, and the region is becoming skeptical of Presidential speeches.

In even worse news, the risk of hurricane is considered to be relatively high this year.

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Lenny Kravitz at Jackson Square

Lenny Kravitz is the man. He’s had a house in New Orleans for years, and as an adopted local, he consistently speaks up for the uniqueness and sacredness of the city at seemingly every opportunity. He’s been on CNN several times this week including the telethon Larry King conducted for the Gulf Oil Spill and at least a couple of appearances on AC360.  He clearly cares about the culture of the place, and most importantly to locals, he “gets it.”

So apparently during some off time in a French Quarter restaurant, he overheard a choir at Jackson Square performing his song “Fly Away” — and decided to sit in!  Yet another cool New Orleans moment:

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What’s up with the oil spill?

So, southern Louisiana is at the crossroads of another horrific tragedy. This time, it’s Deepwater Horizon. Like Katrina, ineptitude is on display from all angles: The company can’t stop the well, the feds can’t make them speak honestly about how bad the damage is or how fast it’s flowing, and the local governments have waited two months before deciding to build sand berms on their own, rather than waiting for permission.

The city is torn–torn between protecting the wetlands and the oil jobs created by the industry destroying it.  And it’s not just BP–the oil industry has spent years dredging and digging in the wetlands to build oil and gas canals, which among other things increase the amount of salt water entering the marshes and which destroy the ecosystem.  The estimated 10,000 miles of canals in the Louisiana marshland is an astonishing number to imagine, but have a look to see what it looks like. Further, protecting the urban areas with levees has stopped the river’s sediment-rich water from reaching the wetlands, and combined this is a deadly combination.  As this exacerbates the loss of the wetlands, it also puts New Orleans and other populated areas like Houma and Cajun Country in more danger.

NOTE: There are more factors, though oil is a major one. Bayou Child covers this in more detail.

So this is the complicated set of realities with which a resident of the Gulf Coast looks at this disaster — it’s one that was caused by Big Oil, but yet Big Oil employs too many people to support impeding its work.   Thousands of jobs is a heavy toll to pay, even though the outspoken Bill Maher had an interesting (language warning–Not Safe For Work or for sensitive ears!) take on the situation–fast forward to the 2 minute mark so you don’t have to listen to unrelated attempts at humor:

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What was it like watching the 2009 Saints?

The 2009 NFL season was magical for any New Orleanian, current or past.  No need to rehash the underwhelming history of the franchise, except to say that it’s rare that a team with such a history of ineptitude can retain an avid–some might say “rabid”–fanbase.

Make no mistake, Katrina and its aftermath have enhanced the emotional bond between city and team, as the team has become ambassadors of the amazing amount of recovery that’s already been achieved.  But this team and city were wedded long before that dreadful event.  New Orleans is a region with unfortunate drug related crime and racial mistrust, but which can come together for a common cause during Saints games.  The NFL often receives no better local TV ratings in any home market than it does in NOLA–for games six weeks into the season, the Saints were being watched by a whopping 80% of the TVs in use in the New Orleans metro area of over a million people. Crime even stops for 3 hours.

The best summary of the relationship between the city and team I’ve ever seen is found in this video, the Soul of New Orleans.  Take 5 minutes and watch it, there’s a lot of realism within.  For now, there’s an embeddable version here, but if there’s no video in this space please click the link.

So instead, enjoy my favorite “crowd reaction” video — just as Peyton Manning is intercepted to seal the Super Bowl. Unbridled, spontaneous joy – and, as one comment on the video pointed out, a need to cover 4 feet of space at the bar with 2 bars. Yes, that’s New Orleans for you.

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So it begins.

I’ve decided to start a weblog, just like millions and millions of others.  What makes me any different?  Hard to say, but I believe I have something to say, and in fact I believe I have a *lot* to say.  I like to write and I need a venue.

As someone who left New Orleans during his college years to settle in a land of more plentiful opportunity, I found myself internalizing the outlook on life present in my new home.  Then Katrina happened.  I found myself watching the coverage on WWL on Sunday as the megastorm approached, riveted to the screen during the event, and contributing to relief efforts afterwards while frustrated at the immense negativity towards the city found in the media.  This revived my love for my home and I started to see more of its effect on the person I’ve become.

So why start writing, and why now?  I’m watching five years later as yet another immense disaster takes place within 75 miles of the mouth of the Mississippi, and watching its effects upon the valuable wetlands which have been disappearing for years.  I see a city, region and state torn between protecting its unique natural resources and retaining the ability to make a living.  I see a region, culture and lifestyle trying to survive.

So now, having returned countless times and watched the city grow and shrink before my eyes, I feel that I can provide a unique outlook on many things as seen from the eyes of someone who grew up in a culture which–though completely American–most Americans can’t really understand.

Eventually I may choose to self-host this blog, but for now I have created this blog as a place to share my thoughts, for whoever may wish to read them.

I am, and have always been, NOLA derived.

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