BP Oil Spill: Volunteers Rally for Wildlife, Money Pours In
Business + Economy

BP Oil Spill: Volunteers Rally for Wildlife, Money Pours In

In Senate hearings, officials are grilled as anger spreads about soiled water, land, and wildlife

Oil continues to gush in the Gulf of Mexico and BP workers are straining to  plug the catastrophic leak, while scientists, volunteers and others struggle to rescue threatened wildlife, including brown pelicans that nest along the coast. The brown pelican came off the endangered list just this past November and has already suffered a loss of marshlands due to coastal erosion. 

More than 12,000 people nationwide have offered to help with bird recovery efforts, Melanie Driscoll of the National Audubon Society’s Louisiana Coastal Initiative told The Fiscal Times.

On Monday, executives of BP expressed cautious optimism that the latest efforts to contain the leak were moving in the right direction. A mile-long tube was successfully inserted on Sunday afternoon into a busted pipe coming from the blown oil well sitting 5,000 feet below the surface. The tube, which leads to a tanker above the surface, is siphoning off about a fifth of the crude that’s pouring into the Gulf each day. It’s handling about 42,000 gallons daily, the company says.

Both BP and the U.S. Coast Guard have estimated that 210,000 gallons of oil a day are spewing into the Gulf.  Scientists and other experts, though, estimate the number to be far higher than reported, especially in light of an unconfirmed 10-mile plume of oil recently detected far below the surface. 

The Hearings Begin
As worry and anger spread, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano faced tough questioning on Capitol Hill on Monday at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The committee is examining the  response to the oil spill in the Gulf, after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers. It’s one of eight hearings scheduled on the subject so far this month.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, a committee member, asked Napolitano for her best-case scenario.  “Obviously, we would like to see the insertion pipe continue to work and lift oil off the surface,” Napolitano responded. “And we would like them [the drillers of the relief well] to hit it the first time.” She added, “Our response is geared to what is necessary to fight the oil on the sea, prevent the oil from hitting land, and if it hits land, then to clean it up immediately.”
McCain asked her for the worst-case scenario. “Worst-case scenario is that we’ll be at this for quite a while,” she responded, adding, “In terms of drilling a relief well, we’re some weeks away--well into the summer.”

The senator then asked her, “Where’s your level of optimism?” Napolitano hesitated, shook her shoulders, and finally replied, “I’m just taking it day by day. And I think that’s what we need to do. In my view, our job is just to keep moving.”

Also during the hearing, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the committee co-chairman, expressed dismay that more precautions to prevent such a spill weren’t taken.  “Until questions are answered satisfactorily, I don’t see how our government can allow any new deepwater wells to be permitted and drilled,” he said. “I know how important offshore American oil is to our nation’s energy independence. But the U.S. government has a responsibility to the public safety that is more important.” Total offshore production of oil in the U.S. is currently about 1.7 million barrels a day. About 1.6  million of this comes from the Gulf of Mexico.

The disaster has had many victims, starting with the men on the rig who lost their lives and extending to the wildlife and environment in the area.  The latest is the top federal official who oversees regulation of offshore oil drilling at the Minerals Management Service, Chris Oynes, will be departing at the end of May. He served as associate director for offshore energy and minerals management.

“Don’t wait. Not for FEMA, or for insurance checks,
or for the government. Just start to do something.”

Rallying Cry for Help
In New Orleans, David Freedman, general manager of radio station WWOZ in New Orleans and one of the organizers of the GulfAid charity concert over the weekend, in which Lenny Kravitz and others performed, reported great success in attendance and raising money for relief efforts. Unofficial estimates of the amount raised were said to be approximately one million dollars, but Freedman told The Fiscal Times, “We still have a lot of money coming in. There’s a long tail on this one. Aside from our text messaging efforts, we’ve cut a DVD, and we have a single we’re hoping to put on iTunes.”

He and the other organizers are also working on follow-up ideas that include traveling to ten cities across the country with ten different chefs and “getting them to prepare dinners that raise money,” he said. There may be other events as well.  All money raised goes to those  hurt by the oil spill.  “We sort of got schooled by Katrina,” said Freedman ruefully.  “One of the lessons we learned was, Don’t wait. Not for FEMA, or for insurance checks, or for the government. Just start to do something. Hopefully they’ll come in and do what they’re supposed to do. But don’t wait. So we didn’t.” He added, “This could be like a five-year tropical depression that settles on this whole region. We just don’t know. But we couldn’t wait to find out. So we went ahead and did something.”