By Anna Hrybyk, LABB Program Manager
I have been diligently attending the U.S. Coast Guard’s Oil and Hazardous Substance Area Contingency Planning meetings for over a year. USCG caught flack during the BP Oil Spill because this area (including hardest hit Plaquemines, St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes) did not have a contingency plan. We would like to be considered a resource during another such disaster and so we joined the Community Outreach Subcommittee of the Area Contingency Plan.
Thanks to our partnership with SkyTruth we have been able to monitor reports of pollution coming into the National Response Center. The National Response Center is run by the US Coast Guard and serves as the federal point of contact for all pollution reports. It is the only way the public has to know when a chemical has been released in their area. Sign up now to Get Alerts to your phone or your email by visiting our iWitness Pollution Map.
The majority of reports coming into the National Response Center are from leaking wells and pipelines throughout Louisiana’s disappearing bayous into the open waters of the Gulf Of Mexico. John Amos from SkyTruth brought to light that “there are currently 24,486 known permanently abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico, and 3,593 ‘temporarily’ abandoned wells, as of October 2011.” Over 600 of those abandoned wells belong to BP, reported the Associated Press last year, adding that some of the permanently abandoned wells date back to the 1940s. Amos also states that some of the “temporarily abandoned” wells date back to the 1950s.
Companies go belly up and are not forced by law to pay a well abandonment bond up front for plugging, sealing and adequately marking their wells before leaving the site. The state views a well abandonment bond as a detriment to progress and actually lures companies to the state using the lack of such a bond as an incentive. Aging unsealed infrastructure and no markers identifying over 25,000 abandoned well sites is a recipe for a very polluted state and Gulf.
Thanks to the GIS work of Carrie Beth Lasley at UNO, we know that in 2009 and 2010 there were over 4,000 reports of pollution in Louisiana to the National Response Center with the large majority of those reports coming from oil wells in the Gulf. There are thousands of repeat offenders. Carrie Beth found that a little under half of the releases occurred within 1 foot of a location that had reported a spill in the previous year. She was also able to see that a high number of pipeline and well incidents occurring in areas identified as salt marsh and fresh marsh according to maps from 2002. Much of this land may already be open water, exposing pipelines and wellheads previously protected by land to salt water and boat traffic.
The new captain of the Coast Guard for Sector New Orleans, Captain Peter Gautier, comes to our area from the West Coast. He thought that the NGO community should be in a constant state of “righteous indignation” over the rampant disrespect for our environment by the oil and gas companies and our state.
Our sense of outrage and “righteous indignation” has been consistently degraded just like our natural protections by Louisiana’s own constitution. In a response to an LABB permit challenge for an expansion of Marathon’s oil refinery in Garyville, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality wrote:
“The LDEQ finds that there are no alternative projects or alternative sites or mitigating measures which would offer more protection to the environment without unduly curtailing non-environmental benefits…The Louisiana Constitution requires balancing, not protection of the environment.”
For inspiration in this grim landscape, I turn yet again to Dr. King for his thoughts on how righteous indignation can serve the cause: