Posts Tagged ‘Deepwater Oil Spill’

FEMA Trailers – the Sequel

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Life Imitates Art

Life Imitates Art

For disaster-fatigued residents of the Gulf Coast, it must be a struggle to move forward with their lives as a painful symbol of the past has returned: the FEMA trailers. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had provided close to $3 billion worth of mobile home trailers intended to be used for temporary housing for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Many occupants of those trailers had developed respiratory ailments, which was subsequently attributed to high levels of formaldehyde resulting from the cheap wood and poor ventilation in the units. The government decided to ban the use of trailers for long-term housing.

But the trailers are re-appearing in the Gulf Coast to provide temporary housing for workers involved in the clean up of the oil spill. Because of the $130 million annual cost to store and maintain the trailers, the government elected to sell them in public auctions. Members of Congress had expressed concerns that the trailers would be re-purposed for long-term housing, which fears appear to have been realized. Purchasers of the trailers may not be aware of the health risks associated with the formaldehyde in the trailers or of the ban on their use for long-term housing purposes. But really, what other purpose would the trailers serve if not housing, as they were built with lavatories and kitchenettes? We are long past the time to demand a comprehensive overhaul and accountability from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “FEMA Trailers – the Sequel” is simply inexcusable.

This photograph is of original art made by New Orleans artist Karen Niklaus. I enjoy art that expresses powerful messages about politics and social change and this piece resonated with me.

When 1+1=5: the Oil Slick During Hurricane Season

Friday, June 4th, 2010

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu expressed concern about how the Deepwater oil spill could be lifted by hurricane force winds and storm surges to become a tidal surge of slime over inland areas. “The oil that’s in the water is either going to be on the marshland or the land that it touches, the challenges are great,” he said. Ron Kendall, an environmental professor at Texas Tech University, told National Geographic that a major hurricane could deliver oil to downtown New Orleans. My friends in Louisiana told me that they see oil slicks the size of Manhattan moving through the Gulf Coast, creating dead zones where fish and the birds that feed on them cannot survive. Should the residue from the spill be pushed deep into coastal marshes, which slow and sometimes block storm surges, low-lying areas such as New Orleans will be even more vulnerable to major storms for the foreseeable future.

Heartache and Activism in Louisiana

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
Endangered Oysters

Endangered Oysters

June 1 would have begun the shrimp catching season in the Gulf Coast. While the season lasts only 90 days, during that period Gulf Coast fishing enterprises earn their entire year’s income, often working 18 – 20 hour days in a grueling business. But the Deepwater oil spill ended the shrimp season before it began, forcing many businesses, such as Camardelle’s Seafood, a bait shop and convenience store operating in Louisiana, to close. The proprietor put a sign on her door stating that BP closed her business. She reported to the news media that her utilities are being shut off and she can’t pay her rent. The oil spill has destroyed more in the Gulf Coast than hurricanes of past years did. Small businesses in Louisiana’s fishing industry report that BP’s compensation for their losses doesn’t even come close to making them whole.

One community isn’t accepting the losses without a fight. A group of Vietnamese-American fishermen have filed a class action suit against BP seeking compensation for their losses. The case is to be heard by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes who, according to the Miami Herald, has ties to the oil industry. Specifically, the Herald reports that the judge was compensated for traveling around the world to present ethics lectures to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, a professional association that works with oil companies, including BP. The company has requested that Judge Hughes hear all of the cases filed against it, presumably because the judge has positive relations with the oil industry. This action suggests a long march to justice.

But the Vietnamese-American community has fought such battles before. Case in point: in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, residents of Versailles, a community on the edge of New Orleans, used the disaster as a catalyst for change. Versailles is the home of the densest community of ethnic Vietnamese outside of Viet Nam. Hurricane Katrina destroyed what they had spent years building since arriving in New Orleans as refugees. Because of their extraordinary work ethic, they rebuilt what nature had destroyed – only to face another threat in the form of a toxic landfill the government planned to build in their neighborhood. The documentary film “A Village Called Versailles” chronicles the experiences of the Vietnamese-American community in New Orleans. It airs on public broadcasting stations this month. I watched it twice and, in light of the oil spill disaster, the timing of the broadcast makes the subject particularly poignant.

The image I have chosen to accompany this blog posting is that of a piece of jewelry from the Gulf Coast collection by Mignon Faget. Mignon Faget is one of my favorite jewelry lines and I always make it a point to visit her shop when I am in New Orleans. She also has a website and catalog for online sales. She writes, “it is a heartbreaking statement to make with jewelry originally designed to celebrate the abundant gifts of our coast. The reality: we need to make people aware of this disaster and the long-term effects it will have on this region. We all need to do what we can.” Mignon Faget is donating 10% of all sales of this jewelry line to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

Preliminary Lessons in Crisis Management

Friday, May 28th, 2010
Not Even Close

Not Even Close

The news from the Gulf Coast continues to alarm. The Associated Press reported workers’ accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf Coast. Imagine the horror the workers experienced as they attempted to walk across a bloody platform and remove debris from their colleagues’ bodies to see if they were alive and if they could be transported to the lifeboats. It is painful to read, but necessary. The report suggests certain preliminary lessons from the tragedy: first, management was clearly wearing rose-tinted glasses when they did their scenario planning, completely failing to envision a realistic disaster scenario. Second, BP failed to delegate authority to workers for immediate corrective action, resulting in costly delays as critical decisions went up and down the chain of command. Third, management put human safety below procedural formalities, preferring to do roll calls when an immediate evacuation was called for. Fourth, it does not appear that critical safety equipment was regularly tested to ensure its functionality. Fifth, the workers were improperly trained in life-saving procedures. One operator, for example, didn’t know how to detach the life boat from the rig. Everyone should be cross-trained in critical functions as you cannot anticipate in advance who will be available to respond to an emergency and in what capacity. Finally, the federal government abdicated responsibility for appropriate intervention, which decision is all the more baffling given that BP executives have given us no reason for confidence in their judgment calls. It is just a horrifying story all round.