Expert calls failure to limit damage following oil leak "unconscionable"

An oil leak response expert is outraged by the (non-)response to the horrible Gulf of Mexico leak:

Federal officials should have started burning oil off the surface of the Gulf last week, almost as soon as the spill happened, said the former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ron Gouget, who also managed Louisiana’s oil response team for a time, said federal officials missed a narrow window of opportunity to gain control of the spill by burning last week, before the spill spread hundreds of miles across the Gulf, and before winds began blowing toward shore.

He also said the heavy use of dispersants, which cause oil to sink, has likely knocked so much oil into the water column that portions of the Gulf may be on the threshold of becoming toxic to marine life. Add in the oil spreading into the water as it rises from the seafloor, and Gouget said he expected officials would have to think about limiting the use of the dispersants.

“There was a threshold of about 35 part per million for oil in the water. Above that, white shrimp larvae died in the laboratory. I don’t know where the levels are now in the Gulf, but that is something they will have to keep an eye on,” Gouget said.

Gouget, now an environmental consultant with Windward Associates in Seattle, was part of the group that created the 1994 plan designed to allow federal responders to begin burning oil as soon as a major spill occurred, without an approval process.

“They had pre-approval. The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away instead of waiting ten days to get permission,” Gouget said…

Asked why officials waited for a week before conducting even a test burn, Gouget said, “Good question. Maybe complacency was the biggest issue. They probably didn’t have the materials on hand to conduct the burn, which is unconscionable.” …“It may have been a political issue. The burn would make a big big plume and lots of soot. Like Valdez, the decisions to get the resources mobilized may not have occurred until it was too late,” Gouget said. “This whole thing has been a daily strip tease. At first they thought it was just the diesel, then they said the well wasn’t leaking. It’s unfortunate they didn’t get the burning going right away. They could have gotten 90 percent of the oil before it spread.”

The long non-response and repeated false “everything’s just fine” claims sure make me wonder whether they were more concerned about the negative impact on public support for offshore drilling than saving the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted by James on Friday, April 30, 2010