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2011 September 13
Morgan City, Louisiana

Shortly after we began finding and reporting the presence of large oil slicks in the Gulf in the vicinity of last year's Deepwater Horizon explosion, On Wings Of Care received an invitation from Captain Jonathan Burton of the US Coast Guard in Morgan City, LA to meet with them and discuss a possible collaboration for monitoring oil and other spills of hazardous substances or illegal activities in the offshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico.   We had a very productive and interesting meeting together at the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City on September 13.


Here are some key points from our meeting.  Following these are a full transcription of our notes plus a photo gallery of presentation slides from the Coast Guard.  

1.  The USCG has jurisdiction over oil spill response in the offshore waters.  The EPA has jurisdiction over inland oil spills.  Hence the continued use of the dispersant Corexit despite the EPA's statements from 2010 May discouraging its use.  Decisions about how to handle nonrecoverable surface oil in the Gulf are made through the local Regional Response Team (#6) together with the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC,which for the Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana is Captain Burton of Morgan City).  Members of the RRT are not voted in by the public.  The National Contingency Plan for oil spills currently provides pre-authorization for the USCG to use Corexit on nonrecoverable surface oil in the Gulf of Mexico.  If the public would like to influence that plan, e.g., to remove that pre-authorization and change it to some other preferable course of action, they must find a way to influence the RRT and the FOSC.  Chances are that that will require legislative pressure from Washington -- which in turn requires pressure from public citizens on their congressional representatives.  Protests alone, on the streets or in newspaper columns, won't change much very quickly, it would seem.

2.  A good way to draw state and federal attention to an unacceptably high amount of uncontained oil in the Gulf is to report slicks to the National Response Center (800-424-8802).  By making these reports -- and making them well (see guidelines below), not only will the local USCG respond, but all other agencies will be made aware. Companies responsible for the spill have the option to clean their "spills" up themselves or to pay the USCG to clean them up; the latter typically costs as much as three times more than cleaning it up themselves. By the Oil Spill Act of 1990, all companies must have on record a detailed containment and cleanup plan for any oil spills, as well as an acceptable plan to prevent spills. This explains in part how Nalco's association with BP changed Nalco's primary business from one of wastewater treatment to the use of Corexit as a dispersant to sink surface oil. Apparently, despite the existence of other much less toxic dispersants and oil removal mechanisms, only Corexit was pre-approved for use due to these pre-existing plans for containment and cleanup. Just who has authority to approve or disapprove these preventative and cleanup plans from the oil companies for offshore oil platforms? Not the EPA, it would seem.

3.  For guidelines on how to give effective incident reports to the NRC regarding offshore oil slicks, please see the last few paragraphs of the notes below.  A brief bottom-line summary of what to include in your reports is as follows:

a. Date/time, your name/affiliation/contact information, your vessel or aircraft type.
b. Location of source (if known).
c. Percent coverage: -- 1%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%. Try at least to say sparse, moderate, dense, or solid.
d. Flight path or trackline from GPS, and altitude from which observation was made.
e. On-scene weather (wind, sea state, visibility) and stage of tide if known (flood, ebb, slack).
f. Oil description: 
-- Slick location, dimensions, orientation (N-S-E-W). If possible fly the entire slick and record the gps coordinates of the perimeter.
-- Oil color and appearance (S=Silver/gray; R=Rainbow: M=Metallic; T=Transitional; D=Dark, or mousse);
-- Oil distribution (Tarballs, Convergence Lines, Wind rows, Streamers, Patches, No Structure);
-- Percent Coverage
-- Recoverable? (yes if black and transitional, mousse, heavy metallic -- whether from diesel or oil)









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