The tragic accident that has resulted in what's known as the BP oil spill happened on April 20, 2010 at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. A total of 11 workers were killed and at least 17 other employees were injured in what's being called the worst oil spill disaster in the history of the United States. In addition to the horrific loss of human life, many fear the death toll of marine life will be staggering.
BP Oil Spill Pollutes the Gulf
Three months after the oil rig ruptured, oil is still gushing out at an estimated rate of nearly 60,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Most scientists and environmentalists believe the impact of this disaster will be far-reaching and beyond our ability to know how it will affect the future of this region of the country.
Impact on Mobile Bay in Alabama
One of the areas that is being impacted by this spill is Mobile Bay in Alabama. Besides the obvious fishing and tourism industries' loss of revenue, this region is also important to Alabama and other states as a vital watershed .
The Mobile Bay Watershed is the sixth largest river basin in the United States. It may surprise you to learn that it's a big drain basin for nearly 75 percent of Alabama's rivers. In addition, the basin serves portions of Georgia, Mississippi and even Tennessee rivers and streams. This makes Mobile Bay the dumping off point of fresh water into the salt water of Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Mobile Baykeeper Organization Interview: Casi Callaway
One group that has mobilized to assist in this environmental crisis is the Mobile Baykeeper organization. Known for its outstanding work, espeically during this challenging disaster, the Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director, Casi Callaway was featured in Lifetime Television Network's, "Lifetime Celebrates Remarkable Women" series as part of Lifetime's Every Woman Counts Campaign.
Love To Know editor Sally Painter had the opportunity to speak with Casi Callaway about the April 20, 2010 BP oil spill in this exclusive interview.
LoveToKnow (LTK): The Mobile Bay area is still recovering from Katrina and to have this oil spill disaster on top of it just seems too much for one region to be facing.
Casi Callaway (CC): Thank you for remembering that we're still recovering from Katrina. So many people don't realize how Katrina impacted us. It's very difficult to cope with another disaster. We feel like, why us again? Most of the people in this region are third and fourth generations or more; we want to preserve the Gulf for our children and their children.
LTK: Mobile Baykeeper Organization is touted as a "solutions based" group. Would it be accurate to say your organization is an environmental watchdog?
CC: That's exactly what we do. We monitor applications and permits and look for any violations. We have six staff members and 5,000 volunteers. Our organization is 13 years old, so we have quite a few people who know the Gulf region.
LTK: Your position as Executive Director sounds like it's a non-stop job. Your position also holds gubernatorial appointed positions to various councils and committees. Have these positions aided you in this battle against the oil spill?
CC: Some have. For instance, I've been involved with The Gulf of Mexico Program for 10 years and have learned so much about the Gulf issues through some of the best Gulf minds about research, resisting impact and restoration.
Oil Reaches the Shore
LTK: What is your situation there in Mobile? Has the oil reached your coastline yet?
CC: Oh yes. It's here on the beaches. There are red streaks of oil on and just below the surface of the water.
LTK: What is the biggest challenge your organization faces with this oil spill disaster?
CC: The lack of structure and organization. The accident happened on April 20 and on April 28, we had 5,000 volunteers ready to assist. Originally, we had 7,000 to 8,000 volunteers, but once we started organizing the volunteers, we realized there were duplications, since people were calling every agency they could think of to volunteer their time.
We had real work that volunteers could have been doing but weren't able to do it because of the way BP structured the cleanup. We understand part of the issue with the command structure is safety related; however, anytime, we've organized volunteers for a beach cleanup, we've arrived to find prisoner work release forces on the beaches or workers BP hired to conduct the cleanup.
LTK: Then, would it be safe to say that your volunteers are being underutilized?
CC: Absolutely. They're ready to help. And, it's not too late to volunteer. People can still help.
Imperative Action for Cleanup
LTK: What is the one thing your organization believes is imperative to the cleanup?
CC: We encourage everyone to commit to stopping the use of chemical dispersants. The chemicals are sinking the oil to the bottom of the ocean and then it plumes below the surface. It makes it difficult to see the oil. We don't know what the long-term effects will be. The chemicals and oil get into the aquatic plant life and rob the plants of oxygen and the sea life that lives there.
Cleanup Command Structure
LTK: Three forums for the public to discuss the oil spill have been held. What were the results of these forums?
CC: The forums gave the community some great information on the Command Structure for the cleanup. That structure is as follows: The State and Federal agencies work with the responsible party. The responsible party (BP) is the first in the line of command with the Coast Guard being second in command. After that comes every state and federal agency, along with non-government agencies like Baykeeper, who work together in the cleanup.
Baykeeper is designed to serve as a gap-closure between the state and federal agencies and the local community and bay area. That doesn't always happen because government agencies assisting don't understand what we can do for them. For example, we have groups from Atlanta, California, Michigan, and other areas that simply aren't familiar with our region. They don't always understand the specifics about our area. While these are good services to have, we know our regional wildlife and fish best. We can provide a valuable service to the effort, while representing the concerns of the community.
Mobile Baykeeper's Three-Fold Objective
LTK: What are your objectives in this cleanup effort?
CC: Our objective is three-fold: one, provide transparency that information is correct and provide accurate details. Two, protect the shoreline and to stop the chemical dispersants and, three, to organize volunteers.
Oil Industry Presence in Mobile
LTK: How important is the oil industry to Mobile? How many oil rigs are off the coast of Alabama? And Mobile Bay specifically? Are they in deep or shallow water?
CC: Mobile Bay has an imaginary line drawn down the center of the bay. Any rig to the east of that line must be 15 miles out from the shoreline. To the west, it can be placed anywhere. Here in Mobile Bay, we have natural gas rigs, not oil. There are literally hundreds of gas rigs in Mobile Bay and offshore of the barrier islands. No oil, but natural gas. There are two oil refineries, one in South Mobile County and one in North Mobile County. There are hundreds of oil rigs off the coast and throughout the Gulf.
LTK: What portion of the US gas and oil does the Gulf of Mexico provide?
CC: The Gulf provides 54% of the natural gas used in the United States and 55% of the oil.
Glimmer of Hope: Kevin Costner's Invention
LTK: Kevin Costner testified before the Senate about his 20-year old project of perfecting a system that separates oil and water. Do you think this system will finally be implemented for cleanup?
CC: Kevin Costner has been a big supporter of our parent organization, Waterkeeper Alliance, and we were thrilled to see they (BP) are going to use 32 of his systems.
Life Has Changed
LTK: What is the one thing your organization needs the most at this point?
CC: Well, I hate to say it, but the biggest need we have as an organization at this time is fundraising. Our budget only covers six staff people and the organizing of 5,000 volunteers. We simply don't have a budget to handle an oil spill, much less one of this size.
LTK: Are there any final words you'd like to say about this oil spill?
CC: I'd say just because you don't live here in the Gulf, doesn't mean this isn't about you. This is about you. How you live. How it's going to change the way you live. We need to make changes in our lifestyles. If you like seafood, your life has changed because of this oil spill. We all need to take ownership of the environment.
LoveToKnow would like to thank Casi Callaway for taking time from her busy schedule to share her unique perspective about the known and potential effects of the 2010 BP Oil Spill with readers.