Government officials raise estimate of oil spewing from a well in the Gulf of Mexico to 35,000-60,000 barrels per day.
Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge, even after all the warnings, looks worse than I imagined. Pools of oil black and deep stretch down the beach; when cleanup workers drag their rakes along an already-cleaned patch of sand, more auburn crude oozes up. Beneath the surface lie slimy washed-up globules that, one worker says, are "so big you could park a car on them."
It's Saturday, May 22nd, a month into the BP spill, and I've been trying to get to Elmer's Island for the past two days. I've been stymied at every turn by Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies brought in to supplement the local police force of Grand Isle, a 229-year-old settlement here at the very southern tip of Louisiana. Just eight miles long and so narrow in some spots that you can see from the Gulf side to the inland side, Grand Isle is all new clapboard and vinyl-sided bungalows since Katrina, but still scrappy—population 1,500, octuple that in tourist season. It's also home to the only route to Elmer's, a barrier island to the west. I arrived on Thursday with my former University of New Orleans lit prof, John Hazlett; a tandem kayak is strapped to his Toyota Tacoma. At the turn to Elmer's Island Road, a deputy flags us down. Can't go to Elmer's; he's just "doing what they told me to do." We continue on to Grand Isle beach, where toddlers splash in the surf. Only after I've stepped in a blob of crude do I realize that the sheen on the waves and the blackness covering a little blue heron from the neck down is oil.
The Center for Biological Diversity piles on in a press release:
Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has blasted an Interior Department proposal to allow the Minerals Management Service to continue to have environmental oversight of offshore drilling. Speaking on “Platts Energy Week” on Sunday, Babbitt said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s proposal doesn’t go far enough, likening it to “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.” Babbitt suggests shifting oversight to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Center for Biological Diversity agreed that the MMS is grossly unqualified to provide critical environmental oversight of offshore work, as evidenced by the Gulf of Mexico spill disaster. In fact, MMS — an agency created by the stroke of a pen during the Reagan administration — has no inherent mandate from Congress to protect the country’s air, water and wildlife.
“This MMS is so corrupt it’d be hopeless to expect to it to provide any meaningful environmental regulation that does anything but give offshore projects the green light,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center.
Salazar has suggested dividing MMS into three separate divisions: drilling permits, revenue collection and safety enforcement. But the proposed reform does nothing to eliminate the close ties MMS has had — and the industry has exploited — for years.
“We need a much more fundamental shift than Salazar has suggested,” Suckling said. “Environmental regulation ought to be left with environmental experts, like the EPA, not with an agency that simply churns out drilling permits and collects revenue.”