Beyond Crying Over Spilled Oil: How You Can Help

The Gulf of Mexico—the eleven largest body of water in the world—is geographically considered a small branch of the Atlantic Ocean. It houses one of the major bird habitats in the continental United States. The states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—along with Mexico—share gulf shorelines.

The U. S. Bureau of the Census reported that the Gulf coast was once the leading population growth region of the country, increasing 150 percent between 1960 and 2000. Fourteen million people now live in the area. This region is home to commercial fishing, shipping, tourism, oil refining, domestic offshore oil drilling, aerospace and biomedicine.

The Gulf coast houses several large population centers, such as Houston with 5.75 million people, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, with 2.75 million people, and New Orleans with 1.3 million people.

What was Deep Water Horizon?

Forty miles southeast of the Mississippi River delta is the location of the Transocean Corporation deep ocean drilling platform referred to as Deep Water Horizon (DWH). British Petroleum (BP) leased DWH from Transocean Corporation, the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor.

In September 2009, DWH drilled the largest oil well in history at a vertical depth of 35,000 feet. DWH was a fifth generation column submersible drilling rig. It was one of some 200 deep water offshore drilling rigs capable of drilling in waters more than 5,000 feet deep. DWH celebrated its ninth birthday in February 2010.

DWH is 376 feet long by 256 feet wide, or approximately two urban city blocks in length. The rig was upgraded with an “e-drilling” monitoring system from its home-base of Houston, Texas, This operating system allowed technicians to receive real-time drilling data from the rig and transmit maintenance and troubleshooting information.
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What was the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill?

The Deep Water Horizon oilrig explosion and destructive fire occurred 40 miles southeast of the delta downstream from New Orleans. An oil well blowout occurred in the Macondo Prospect oil field, and a subsequent explosion and fire contributed to the death of eleven platform workers and major injuries to 17 others. The Macondo Prospect oil field is one of the largest off shore oil fields in the United States.

DWH was in the final phase of drilling an exploratory oil well that was to be plugged and cemented in place. It was to be suspended for completion as a subsea producer. As work on the well was being completed, a geyser of seawater erupted from the marine riser—the main tub leading from the well onto the rig—shooting a slushy combination of mud, methane gas, and water 240 ft into the air. A bubble of methane gas erupted and water escaped from the well and shot up the drilling column expanding rapidly causing a blowout that eventually lead to an explosion.

Deep Impact

The April 20 explosion was followed by a fire that engulfed the 300 foot long platform. The fire burned for more than two days, even while boats sprayed water on the platform. One hundred twenty six personnel were on the oil rig the day of the explosion. Ninety-eight people were taken to the shore with no injuries. Seventeen workers were transported to trauma centers. BP reported that 11 workers were missing.

Two days after the blowout, the Coast Guard reported that oil was leaking from the rig at the rate of 8,000 barrels or 340,000 gallons per day. The oil spill resembled an oil slick, and began to spread to the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. By Thursday April 22, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal exercised state rights and declared a state of emergency. U.S. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano said that the oil spill would be declared to be of “national significance”, meaning that the federal government could tap into reserves for the accident, potentially through FEMA assistance.

Response

Within one week following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the National Audubon Society transformed the New Orleans Aquarium of America into a marine animal hospital and recovery center. Working in conjunction with the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Recovery Program, they developed a collaborating partnership with Dr. Charles Innis and his staff from the New England Aquarium.

Dr. Innis, chief veterinarian for marine animals, along with Connie Merigo, research director, and Kerry McNally, biologist, traveled to New Orleans to treat sea turtles. In the past ten days, the New England Aquarium has created a series of hyperlinks from the organization’s web page highlighting ongoing work of its nationally recognized staff for people to view. Simultaneously, two national groups working with birds—including the Tri-State Bird Research Center of Delaware and the International Bird Research Center located in the San Francisco Bay area—have joined forces to treat injured birds. These two groups have established centers throughout the four state region to train local professionals. They have also created a major bird hospital and recovery center located right on the river delta in Buras, Louisiana, one hour by boat from the oil spill.

Organizations Looking for Volunteers

CNNmoney.com has established a page online highlighting organizations involved in the cleanup and who were looking for volunteer. CNN has projected that nationally 150 to 200,000 people have signed up online to volunteer.

Several websites that I researched last week are no longer accepting applications. I have researched two groups that still are accepting on line applications from this site.

The first of these is the Alabama Costal Foundation. ACF has a volunteer application available online at its website. ACF has also created a Facebook page that highlights individuals, as well as volunteer comments. On Facebook they post information about new positions available daily. This Facebook page provides valuable information about the group’s works for interested parties to read.

The second group is the National Audubon Society oil spill web site. The NAS web site featured an online volunteer application available for people to fill out. The NAS application allowed people to highlight specific interest, work related areas of training, and specializations. NAS specified that they will contact people on an as needed basis.

I also researched four other local Gulf coast organizations on my own. They included the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, Volunteer Florida, the Louisiana Service Commission and the Deep Water Horizon.

The Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service has a volunteer application available on-line at its web site. MCVS has one of the largest list of volunteer positions available on-line by need and if they are ongoing. To apply requires that you set up an account The agency states that they will contact you if needed.

The Volunteer Florida website does not have an online application available, but they do list local state-based groups in need of volunteers. Included are organization’s names, contact persons, locations, phone numbers, and in some cases and the specific work-related area required.

The Louisiana Service Commission has a volunteer application available online at its web site under “oil spill” heading. LSC has created a Facebook page that highlights a variety of positions available. To apply requires that you set up an account; they state that they will contact you promptly.

The Deep Water Horizon web site coordinated by BP lists professional positions available in the oil spill area. DWH has an on-line application available. You need to list any professional licenses. Training is required and it is paid. Positions include hazardous clean up personnel, experienced boat captains and crew leaders.

Finally, ebird.org is looking for volunteer bird watchers and has a hyperlink via the National Audubon Society’s web site for more information.

Overview

I encourage Spare Change readers and members of the public who are planning vacations, time off from jobs, or a summer break from school to consider engaging in some oil spill related volunteer work. If you are in between jobs, looking for a career change and have bird watching/hazmat/marine animal related work experience you may be able to locate paid work that may require a 3 to 5 hour or 2 to 3 day certificated training with the DWH web site facilitated by BP. If you are a college student looking for an internship involving hands on work related experience, I suggest that you look at the web sites listed above for further information.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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