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Drilling Advocate Frustrated By Handling Of Oil Spill

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Drilling Advocate Frustrated By Handling Of Oil Spill


Drilling Advocate Frustrated By Handling Of Oil Spill

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

The oil company BP says it will be at least Tuesday before they try again to clog the deepwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. There's growing frustration with BP's inability to contain the spread of oil and the government's oversight of the environmental disaster.

NPR's Debbie Elliott has the story of one drilling advocate who's fed up with the response.

Mr. TOM HUTCHINGS (Environmental Consultant): Mobile, parts, Skyline, six, zero-zero, hotel, bravo.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Tom Hutchings is flying south over Mobile Bay, into the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: Yes, sir. We're Cessna 182 off of - six miles south of Fairhope, going to the sight of the oil rig.

ELLIOTT: It's his sixth such flight since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sunk more than a month ago.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: All right. Now, you see out here? You see the oil slick now? Yeah, we're starting to see it.

ELLIOTT: He points to a line of sheen glistening in the morning sun. Were about 40 miles south of the Alabama coast. As we approach the gusher, the intermittent sheen turns to brighter strands of pinkish crude, and then it gets thicker and darker.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: What I'm seeing now is different from what I've seen before. These large, dark, almost burgundy spots of oil. They look like blood, really.

ELLIOTT: Early on, he saw a frothy mix. Now, pools and streams of the red oil streak the deep blue water.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: What is so incredible now is that sun looking down on those colors. Can you see that? The whole sea, the whole sea is nothing but a reflection of the oil on top of it. That is not what the Gulf of Mexico should look like.

ELLIOTT: Hutchings is an environmental consultant who typically works with industry to manage environmental risk. He's spent his career forging the middle ground between economic and environmental interests. He lives in Montrose, Alabama, on the red clay bluffs that line the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: Stories go back to where people were supposedly sat on this particular bluff and watched Admiral Farragut and his troops come up the bay. So that makes it kind of interesting, you know. I'm really hoping the defenses at the mouth of the bay are a little better than they were in the Civil War. But it's distressing, it's permeating. It's touched me from the moment I saw that rig on fire.

ELLIOTT: And ever since, his frustration has grown in proportion to the amount of oil that's spewing nearly a mile deep from the sea floor. He doesn't understand why BP can't stop the leak.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: It seems to me that they certainly had a PR plan for the disaster, but they certainly had no plan for the spill, for handling the actual consequences of the spill.

ELLIOTT: BP's first attempt to curtail the flow with a containment dome failed. A tube inserted into a leaking pipe has diverted some oil, but it's not clear what proportion of the daily spillage that is. BP and the Coast Guard have said 5,000 barrels a day are spewing into the Gulf, but scientists tell NPR it could be 10 times that amount or even more.

Last week, BP Chairman Tony Hayward told Sky News that the company was having success getting control of the spill.

Dr. TOM HAYWARD (Chairman, British Petroleum): Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest.

ELLIOTT: Hayward also told the Guardian that the Gulf of Mexico is, quote, "a very big ocean, and the volume of oil we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume."

Tom Hutchings disagrees.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: If a BP exec wants to call something tiny, call the effort tiny.

ELLIOTT: Hutchings thinks BP and the government should be doing more, living up to the assurances that convinced him to support offshore oil and gas development.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: So I was kind of on the bandwagon. Hey, it's safe. I was drinking the company Kool-Aid. They had the safety regulations in place. Everybody was touting that there was no risk to this, no risk to that, and it's going to be offshore where you can't see it. You know, (unintelligible), you'll never see it. You know, and I was there. And then, boom, right here at home.

ELLIOTT: Even with the looming threat, Hutchings says it's not realistic to stop offshore drilling now. But he doesn't think the industry should be able to push the frontier in such deep water until the safety technology catches up. He says that's where the government has failed.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: We've not been able to say no to apparently any oil industry request. That's not what I think EPA is for, Coast Guard is for. I dont think that's not what our government is for.

ELLIOTT: Administration officials are defending BP's response to the disaster. Here's White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during a lengthy, somewhat testy exchange with reporters on Friday.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): There's nothing that we think can and should be done that isn't being done - nothing.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: Six hundred, hotel, bravo circling the source.

ELLIOTT: From his plane over the oil-streaked Gulf of Mexico, Tom Hutchings is disheartened.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: This thing is huge, out of control and has been out of control. The truth is, they don't know how to stop it.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.

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