Dispatch from the Gulf Oil Spill: Navigating the Media Whirlpool
Images courtesy of Philippe Cousteau
There is definitely a trend emerging here: Early mornings seem to be the name of the game. This felt especially brutal since I didn't arrive in New Orleans until about 1AM and didn't get to the hotel until about 2AM. Ugh...and I had to get up at 5:30 today to get ready to shoot a standup for American Morning on CNN. The big thing everyone wanted to talk about today was the fact that I attended a congressional briefing on Wednesday where I spoke about my experiences regarding the Gulf Oil Spill.It was for Representative Markey's subcommittee and next to me were some eminent scientists who just got back from the Gulf and brought with them some scary knowledge. As we feared, there are deepsea oil plumes and they are causing a dangerous drop in oxygen in the water because the bacteria that eats the oil (only some of it) also consumes a huge amount of oxygen (because there is so much of the bacteria). Then all the other creatures are deprived of oxygen and what we call a 'dead zone' is created where animals suffocate and die.
A year ago I testified before Congress about off-shore drilling—Ocean Conservancy was my partner to prepare for the testimony so I can't take all the credit—but together we warned the world that we were not prepared for an oil spill, that we lacked the technology to clean it up, and that we shouldn't be drilling without a plan and without having conducted the science. As we all know those predictions came true and that is what CNN wanted to hear about.
The morning standup on camera went well and we promptly headed down towards Venice, Louisiana, to meet up with an MSNBC crew to do another series of standups. For those of you who don't know, a standup is where you deliver a dialogue to camera, either on your own or prompted by a host. In this case I was being prompted by the various hosts of the different shows.
Venice was about an hour and a half away and I made it just in time to jump out of the car and get mic'ed up and on camera. Again, they wanted to discuss my visit to the Hill and also discuss the latest news that the estimate of how much oil has been spewing into the Gulf has gone up. The last few weeks the estimate was around 20,000 barrels and in just the last few days it has gone up to 40,000 barrels, that is 8 times the original estimate of 5,000 barrels. There are 42 gallons in a barrel; do the math to see that is almost 1.7 million gallons...per day!!
Images courtesy of Philippe Cousteau
The first time I appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the spill, another guest was a scientist from Perdue University who estimated a total of between 50,000-80,000 barrels a day. People were very skeptical but clearly he was right. Obviously it makes this disaster even more catastrophic than originally thought but the fundamental reality doesn't change: We weren't prepared and we have no idea how to really deal with this crisis.
It will break the 100 million gallon mark if it hasn't already and at such depth it is totally unprecedented. BP is getting caught with their pants down.
An Associated Press report came out yesterday that revealed BP's emergency contingency plan stated they were prepared to deal with a spill even larger than the one destroying the Gulf right now. They also predicted that no oil would ever make landfall because the rig was too far out. Oh, and they also listed dead scientists as points of contact and included walrus and polar bears as animals that could be impacted by a spill (clearly they just cut and pasted from an Alaska plan and no one at MMS read it).
This is just another example of how BP seems to be their own worst enemy and how a culture of arrogance and complacency in the oil industry ruled the day.
Two more interviews later it was time to head back to New Orleans to pick up my mother and sister and the rest of the team that is joining us for the next two days. We met for dinner and ordered a glass of champagne in honor of a very special man: My grandfather. Today he would have been 100 years old and no doubt horrified by this spill. As would my father Philippe Cousteau Sr., who will have died 31 years ago on June 28th this year. My father always dreamed of a world where children could walk on clean grass, sit by a clear stream of fresh water, and breath pristine air under a beautiful blue sky. It's a simple dream and one that I share and which I hope you do too. This disaster reminds us that his dream is still a dream...but one that we can all fight for and I believe, some day achieve.
Read more about the Gulf oil spill:
BP Gulf Oil Spill Cheat Sheet: A Timeline of Unfortunate Events
Gulf Spill Exclusive: Shocking Marine Life Destruction and Angry Locals (Slideshow)
Less Than 1% of Oil-Soaked Birds Survive
Gulf Oil Spill: Amazing and Devastating Photos