Gulf Coast Comedy of Errors

The anxious residents of South Louisiana last week witnessed another series of disappointments in the prolonged effort to contain the monstrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Wednesday, Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen announced that the diamond-edged saw that was being used to cut a massive riser pipe became stuck. The “cut and cap” plan was modified to allow for a “shear” of the pipe instead. Initially, the oil flow will increase by almost 20% while the cap is being placed over the massive cut. As usual, success is not guaranteed.

These developments are not encouraging, considering the poor track record of the past seven weeks. Previous efforts such as the “top hat,” “top kill” and “junk shot,” have all failed. In fact, except for installing a small hose that is siphoning a miniscule percentage of the spewing oil, BP is batting zero percent in their effort to contain or cap the well.

For a real solution, the Gulf Coast region will have to wait until at least August or maybe later for the relief well to be completed. All of these recent setbacks were announced by the Coast Guard, which is supervising the work of BP engineers.

It is now clear that the federal government is in charge of the operation on all levels, but that is hardly comforting to local residents who are furious at the bureaucratic red tape which has prevented the construction of sand barriers to capture the incoming invasion of oil.

Regardless of who is in charge, the people of South Louisiana have zero confidence in the ability of either BP or the federal government to contain the spill or clean-up the mess.

The President’s recent trip to the region did not help matters at all. While it was positive that he visited coastal Louisiana, he was sheltered from the real damage. The President walked the clean beaches of Grand Isle, instead of visiting damaged marshes. Right before he arrived, hundreds of workers mysteriously arrived to clean up the beach on Grand Isle. Right after Mr. Obama left, the workers departed as well. According to representatives of Oil Mop, Inc., the contractor in charge of the clean-up operation, it was just a coincidence that the workers started right before the presidential visit. If you believe that nonsense, I have some Louisiana swamp land to sell you.

These workers did not possess any extraordinary training in oil clean-up and could have been picked up from any local unemployment office. Since untrained workers were deposited on the beach for a clean-up operation, it is amazing that volunteers are not allowed to assist the effort. Supposedly, volunteers have been shunned because they lack the specialized training in oil removal, but when it is time to hastily clean up a beach prior to a presidential visit, it seems no training is necessary.

As usual, there is confusion and mixed signals as this disaster unfolds. The real losers are the people of South Louisiana. The CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, complained in an interview that he wants “his life back,” but the struggling people who live and work along the coast of South Louisiana are being impacted much more than any spoiled corporate executive. For example, on Tuesday, another cherished tradition, the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo was cancelled for this year. There is no guarantee that it will return next year, especially with the long term impact of the of the oil spill a big question mark.

To make matters even more infuriating, it was announced last week that officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met with Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron to discuss “innovative ways of capping the oil spill.” Last week, Kevin Costner was granted an audience with the Coast Guard to discuss his brother’s company, which specializes in oil spill clean-up.

While Hollywood stars were being greeted with open arms, scores of hard working businessman and entrepreneurs with good ideas on how to clean up the oil are being shunned. These people want to help clean-up the oil, but report no progress in getting their products in front of the right decision makers. Usually, the businessmen are told to contact the lead contractor Oil Mop, Inc. for a meeting, but that company is not interested in entertaining new ideas since they prefer to use products that they already have in stock. Therefore, innovative and environmentally friendly concepts are getting no traction at a time when their services are desperately needed.

This disaster was at first greeted with indifference, then inaction and now ineptitude. It is a comedy of errors that is threatening an entire way of life and an entire region of the country.