Sunday, July 04, 2010

Can you hear what I hear? Please see what I have seen.

I'm in my hometown of Pensacola, Florida for the holiday weekend. Usually, I would be taking my children to the beach. Of course, I won't do that, because there are tar balls on the shores of Pensacola Beach and dispersed oil on top of and floating under the water of the Gulf of Mexico. (Yes, under the water.) I took a tour with a friend who lives here to see it for myself. If you are just relying on the reporters when it comes to what is on the beach, you aren't getting the whole story. To see pictures of the western end of Santa Rosa Island, take a gander at a page on Facebook. Damn Oil has the photos of a resident who visits the beach regularly. We'll update it regularly.

But, that isn't why I am writing. I need to share what I heard. Words, honest ones, spoken between concerned people.

My friend and I parked at the second stop in sun that broiled the skin at 9:30am. As we approached the edge of the clean up area, at least a hundred workers either scoured the sands or rested under the canopies. If you didn't know any better, your first impression would be that two-thirds of the men and women weren't doing what BP has contracted them to do. Except, they were. We met their superintendent who explained how many hours of training each worker had, which are recognized by their shirt colors. Due to safety reasons (that heat and humidity), the cleaning team can only work for 20 minutes each hour. While the superintendent didn't expressly say, the teams are organized into three shifts. There aren't any minutes in the hour that someone isn't working. Plus, they are all residents of the Gulf Coast. These are people who needed jobs. As our new friend told us, it's a bittersweet boon to the area.

That wasn't the first time I heard that. The second time happened in a bar. As I caught up with high school friends, another person joined us, also from our high school. He stood out to me the moment I asked him what he was doing these days. "Working for BP," he answered. As the saying goes, I was all ears.

What he said is difficult to write. Not about the clean up. That, at least when it comes to the daily influx of tar balls, is progressing. I happened to mention the wobbling cap that currently is gathering some of the crude. BP Worker exclaimed, "There's nothing holding it on there. And, there's damage beneath the sea floor."

We worried over the amount fouling the Gulf. A friend asked if the reservoir would eventually run out. He answered with what I expect is closely guarded information. "With that flow rate, we could be looking at ten years of it going if we don't get it stopped."

"But," I had to counter that statement with something positive, "the first relief well is getting closer, and that's been used before to stop this kind of leak."

He paused, looked at me, and said, "It has?"

"Yes. The well in Australia and the Ixtoc one way back when we were kids." (Quick link for outside verification of said facts: Precedence article in Miami Herald)

"They did? I didn't know that's how they stopped it." He has focused on the clean up and  those logistics. He's got some tunnel vision that only deals with this well. I instantly forgave his ignorance on that point.

He continued by using the bar table, about 22 inches in diameter, as an example of the pipe through which the oil is flowing. Think of it as a vacuum, he suggested. He said that two pipes of an 8 inch diameter aren't going to do much good with such a strong vacuum.

My heart skipped a beat, and whatever hope I had for seeing the sea life return floated away with the smoke sucked into the ventilation system. "We've killed the Gulf is what you're saying."

"There's no we about it." Interpret that as you will. I am simply saddened even more.

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