Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release May 5, 2010

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BP Oil Spill Devastates
Gulf Environment and Seafood Industry

 RealAudio  MP3

Interview with Kerry St. Pe,
executive director of
Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary program,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus


As the British Petroleum drilling rig spill continues to release nearly 5,000 barrels of crude oil a day, wreaking havoc in the Gulf of Mexico, frantic efforts are underway to contain it. Thirty percent of U.S. domestic oil comes from the Gulf of Mexico, most of it from deep-water wells now that the oil closer to shore has mostly been depleted. The offshore oil and gas industry employs 35,000 workers. Evidence is mounting that BP cut corners to continue production instead of addressing emerging safety issues.

Though redundancy was supposed to be built into the system to guard against accidents, BP apparently chose not to install a deep-water valve that could have sealed leaks in case of an accident. The area is also rich in natural gas, and one likely explanation for the explosion that claimed the lives of 11 workers on April 20 is that gas leaked into the concrete seal that Halliburton installed to encase the well in deep water.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Kerry St. Pe, executive director of the Barataria-Terrebone National Estuary Program, covering the productive and fragile wetlands west of New Orleans. St. Pe previously worked for more than two decades as chief spill preventer in that region. He spoke by cell phone from the Incident Command Center in Houma, La., where he was assisting in the joint state-federal response to the disaster.

KERRY ST. PE: The absolutely worst-case scenario is that this thing is spewing out oil at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day for 90 days -- the time it would take them to drill a relief well. That's the absolute worst-case scenario because oil would be moved around the Gulf in all directions in accordance with the wind and the currents and it's highly probable that oil would then impact and go inside the internal estuaries into the B basin and the T basin, and these are very sensitive areas -- this is the nursery ground where everything begins; all the marine resources, all the birds, everything in abundance within the estuary.

BETWEEN THE LINES: People don't know how bad it's going to be, but do people there consider this a watershed moment, so to speak? I know it's a jobs issue, but maybe there could be other kinds of jobs without this kind of risk to both humans and the environment, and that maybe we need to move away from fossil fuels? Is anybody talking about that?

KERRY ST. PE: Oh, people are talking about the potential environmental impact. People are very angry; the fishermen are all angry because a large part of the affected area has been shut down from even fishing; all the boats are tied up in harbors. But, you know, there's questions as to how much safeguards were put in place by this drilling company, and you know, that's where the concern is right now. Nobody down here is talking about stopping the off-shore drilling or production of oil and gas. People, unfortunately, do need oil and gas for everything they do in life. Powering their cars, for example. But no one is saying we shouldn't try to find a alternative fuel. But in the meantime, what are you going to do?

BETWEEN THE LINES: I wonder, just because the Cape Wind project was just approved off Nantucket in the north Atlantic, and it seems like similar conditions might be prevalent off-shore in the Gulf of Mexico. Is anyone there talking about developing a wind industry there?

KERRY ST. PE: Yeah, people are talking about wind energy, but that won't replace the entire need. That won't replace oil and gas. What this event probably will do -- most assuredly it will import for safeguards, more redundant safeguards -- than already exist.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you hear a lot of people talking about just leaving the area -- that this is the last straw?

KERRY ST. PE: I haven't heard talk regarding people moving. The people that fish are married, so to speak, to the place. You don't do fishing anywhere else in the U.S., certainly not internally in the U.S., so I wouldn't foresee a lot of people moving out because of this incident. But I have seen a lot of anger, people very confused and angry that they're losing their livelihood, and wanting to do something, wanting to respond with placing booms out. It caused kind of a frenzy down here, and people sometimes making some incredible accusations, and just really confused about what can be done and what can't be done in cleaning up this oil. For instance, boom placement. People saying that the company isn't putting out enough boom. Well, the weather's been so bad around here that they can't even get the boom deployed. It's not safe, plus the wind and seas are blowing the boom far onto land, so they aren't doing any good. It's useless to place boom when it's not doing any good, when it's not even in the water. So things like that. You know, the people that do this for living do know what they're doing, and they're not putting boom out during rough seas because they are completely ineffective. Fishermen see that and they are understandably angry, but not justifiably angry.

Contact the Barataria-Terrebone National Estuary Program in the Louisiana bayou toll free at 1-800 259-0869 or visit the group's website at

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Melinda Tuhus is a executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending May 14, 2010. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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