Melanie Driscoll, Audubon’s director of bird conservation in Louisiana, testified on an experts’ panel during a well-containment hearing held by the new federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement director Michael Bromwich in New Orleans Aug. 4. Federal officials asked her to speak on behalf of the living resources of the Gulf of Mexico, providing a counterpoint to the comments of engineers, professors and businessmen. Her testimony follows:
We, the living resources of the Gulf of Mexico, need you, the oil companies, the federal and state governments, and the American public, to focus on prevention of oil spills and to be able to implement immediate well containment in the event of a blowout if you are to move forward with deepwater drilling.
We, the people, the islands and marshes, the mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and plants of the deep-water and shallow-water environments, need you to protect us before you protect your profit margins. For we exist in a working landscape, where birds and dolphins, gas and oil, shrimping and crabbing, hunting and fishing, have co-existed for decades. We exist in one of the richest natural systems in the United States. The entire coast of Louisiana consists of Important Bird Areas, and there are many others along the Gulf of Mexico. And these marshes and waters provide much of the United States' seafood and energy. We will almost certainly drill here again on this working coast. But we must not begin to drill in pristine environments such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
We need you, the federal government, to create and enforce strict regulations to ensure that deepwater drilling can be conducted with a greater degree of safety. We need the gas and oil companies to follow and respect those regulations, to change the batteries, to complete safety tests, to take the test results seriously, and to spend the money to troubleshoot every time there is a sign of a problem with a well. Because once the well blows, it is too late to avoid damage. There will be harm. There will be deaths, human and animal, and there will be economic damage to communities and the American public. This can no longer be acceptable business practice.
We need you to put as much money, creativity, and effort into research and development of blowout prevention and well containment as you put into methods to drill faster and deeper, and more money than you put into cleaning up those few of us that you can capture and rehabilitate.
We need you to employ the best solutions suggested from input by the world’s best scientists and engineers. You must listen to those experts and implement their solutions to protect the living resources. Whether these strategies include duplicate blowout preventers, relief wells that are dug to within feet of a well, not miles, before oil is ever tapped, or new technologies such as the ones suggested this morning, we need you to have backup strategies in place.
Because several of the technologies used during the initial weeks after the well blew out were used during the Ixtoc spill of 1979, and they failed in 400 feet of water. You were inventing new technology while tens of thousands of barrels of oil were gushing into the Gulf per day. Invent the new technology now and field test it before the next blow out, not during. Just as new products and technologies are lab-tested before being used to clean wildlife during an oil spill, we need you to test the new products and technologies for well containment, not during the next blowout, but beforehand.
Because once the blowout happens, and the best solution lies several months down the road, the harm is done. Deaths have already happened, counted or not.
Day 1: Two attempts to shut down blowout preventers with ROVs failed
Day 6: Blowout preventer repairs failed
Day 10: First oiled bird rescued
Day 18: Containment dome failed
Day 39: Top kill failed, junk shot failed
Day 46: Spike in collection of live, oiled birds
Day 47: Plan to close vents on containment cap abandoned
Day 66: Hurricane Alex approached, well gushed unchecked
Day 78: Marked increase in collection of dead, oiled birds
Day 81: Old containment cap removed
Day 86: Well thought to be completely contained
Day 87: Supertanker skimming test considered failure
Once the oil begins to flow, when there is no solution already invented, field-tested, and in place, you turn our home into a war zone.
You disturb our peaceful nesting islands in your attempts to help us.
You protect us after the fact, with imperfect protection, imperfectly managed. Because there is no way to do this perfectly. When well containment fails, there are no solutions, only sacrifices of individuals to protect populations, only decision rules applied as consistently and fairly as possible to decide who is sacrificed, who may be saved.
It must never again be acceptable to perform a massive chemical experiment on our gulf or ocean waters and the living resources within. Without the technology in place to stop a leak, and without access to a sufficient workforce of vessels to skim the oil near the well site, we came under assault from the chemical dispersants you employed to keep oil from our shores just as we had already come under assault from the oil itself.
You must realize that we are your indicator of the harm you are causing your food source, your environment, and yourselves. After the 11 workers killed during the rig explosion, we were the next to die from the oil. But our deaths only foreshadow the potential deaths of the workers exposed during cleanup, though their deaths may lag by years. We represent the reproductive failures that your children may experience in 10 years. We, the living resources, include those children, their parents working with hazardous chemicals, the residents of the Gulf Coast out of work and losing hope as their livelihoods depend on living resources.
There is no escaping the law of reciprocals. When you fail to contain a well for three months, you fail to protect all of us, birds, dolphins, fiddler crabs, shrimp, crabs, oysters. When you focus on profit, not prevention, you fail fishermen, oystermen, crabbers, captains, guides, and their wives and husbands, their children.
You must enforce and respect strong regulations, you must create and field test effective technologies, and you must place those solutions at well sites before any additional deepwater drilling occurs, for all our sakes. Thank you.