BP Promises To Hire More Locals For Gulf Cleanup

Al Cassagne, a commercial fisherman who lives just outside of Grand Isle, La.

Al Cassagne, who lives just outside of Grand Isle, La., has been fishing the local waters for more than 32 years. He is standing next to one of three commercial fishing boats he operated until the oil spill closed off the fishing waters. David Schaper/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Schaper/NPR

The drilling of relief wells designed to stop oil from spewing into the Gulf of Mexico remains on track and should be completed in August, a top BP official says.

But the company with the two-letter name seems more like a four-letter word to many residents along the Gulf Coast, especially to those who earned their living fishing the waters that are now tainted with oil.

So in its latest effort to repair its image, BP is making changes to its much maligned Vessels of Opportunity program and is hiring more local boats in the cleanup effort.

Outsourcing

Al Cassagne not only works on the water — he practically lives on it.

His highly stilted home is the last in a row of elevated houses on the water's edge, just outside of Grand Isle on the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

Cassagne keeps two of the three boats he captains as a commercial fisherman right outside his door.

One of those boats is an aluminum bait boat that he can put on the list for BP's Vessels of Opportunity program. Under the program, BP hires fishing boats, charter boats, trawlers and other vessels to help contain and clean up the oil.

These boats put out boom and haul materials. Some boats are being outfitted with skimming equipment to suck up some of the oil.

It's keeping some fishermen along the Gulf Coast working while the waters they used to fish are closed.

But not everyone on the list has been getting hired, including Cassagne.

"I really feel like the Vessels of Opportunity program is kind of like a song — when it starts on the wrong note, it ends on the wrong note," he says.

He also says that while he and other full-time commercial fisherman along the coast sit by their idle boats, BP is hiring recreational boats, part-time fishermen and even boats from far away.

"You shouldn't have a guy from 50 miles away working this area because I probably know it better than him," Cassagne says.

More Boats Hired Overall

In response to such criticism, BP announced changes to the Vessels of Opportunity program Tuesday and promised to hire more local, in-state commercial fishing and charter boats and to limit the use of recreational craft.

After meeting with vessel operators, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told NPR in an interview that the company is looking to increase the number of boats hired overall, especially those that can scoop up the oil.

"We continue adding to skimming capability every single day," Suttles said. "We have over 550 vessels each day. We keep adding to that and have orders to get it up to 1,000."

When asked why it took until just recently for BP to request and bring to the Gulf a huge skimming vessel, dubbed A Whale, from Taiwan, Suttles said a lot of work has been done to assess whether the big tankers would work and if they are the right tool.

"What we are trying to do is match the right tool to this spill," he said.

On Schedule

Suttles also said that later this week, BP will deploy a huge oil field supply vessel outfitted with skimming equipment.

And he said a third containment vessel — the Helix Producer — which is at the site of the blown-out well, is now partially connected and will soon be able to help siphon off the oil as it is spewing out.

Suttles said it should double the amount of oil being captured each day to more than 50,000 barrels.

As for the effort to finally stop the flow of oil and cap off the blown-out well head, Suttles said the drilling of relief wells continues to make slow but steady progress. The first relief well should be completed on or ahead of schedule in the first two weeks of August, he said.

What if the relief wells fail?

"With the containment systems we're working on now and the relief wells, you can't make absolutes or guarantees," Suttles said. "The probability of not bringing spillage to a stop by later this summer is very remote."

But Gulf Coast residents who don't buy such assurances will probably only believe it when they see it.

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