The Amy H Remley Foundation  

Update on oil disaster

Linda Young, Director,
Clean Water Network of Florida. July 9, 2010.

Dear Friends of Florida's waters:

It has been two weeks since I sent you an update on the oil disaster as perceived through my eyes, ears and nose. I have learned a lot in that time period and much has happened in terms of government action/inaction and of course to our waters and wildlife. It's hard to know where to start, so I'll just start and hope that it flows in a direction that makes sense to you.

First for some good news: There is definitely more information about what is happening to clean up the oil, now available on the internet. There are numerous links that you can follow, but the two that I find most helpful are these:

They both have further links inside of them, so if you are acutely interested in this situation, I would suggest that you spend time looking over these sites. The CERT-GATOR site is pretty amazing. As I have followed these sites over the past couple of weeks, one thing that really jumps out to me is the fact that there are so many boats and resources being committed to Destin and Panama City as compared to, for instance, Pensacola. But when you look at the oil recovered, the amount at Pensacola is enormously higher. Some oil has been getting over as far as Walton and Bay Counties, but relatively small amounts. Yet, the effort to protect these areas is remarkable. While I don't know the reason for this seeming inequity, I would guess that its political, as in St. Joe Development Corporation put in a phone call to Tallahassee and said something like, "Don't you dare let that oil get to the beaches where we own resorts and rental properties, etc." For those of you who are not familiar with the incredible power of St. Joe, just take my word for it, when they demand something from the state or federal government . . . They get it. Other possible reasons could be that St. Andrews Bay is a very high quality estuary (or was before the state and federal government donated $400 million to build a new airport which has trashed a large part of the bay) and should be protected; there is a US Fish & Wildlife office and a National Marine Fisheries office there and so the federal government is more concerned; or the tax dollars that are generated by Panama City Beach are so high that the state doesn't want to lose that income. Anyway, the important thing about this information is that your coastline may get more or less money, resources and protection, depending on who you know and how well politically connected you are.

Early last week, I sent some questions to the folks in Tallahassee who are intricately involved in the management of the state's resources and decisions. Below is an excerpt from the email and the questions that I sent. My primary questions centered around threats to public health and information that has been circulating about the potential for the methane under the blown-out pipe to explode and possibly cause a tsunami along the Gulf Coast. I had requested the state's position on this previously and was given a canned response from the DEP expert on the subject. What you will read here is my response to the state's statement:

. . . . .There is an article on Huffington Post that explains the threat very succinctly and plainly and leads to more questions. One thing that the DEP expert said that didn't sound right to me, was that the live video feed from the ocean floor around the busted well head does not show any leaking from the ocean floor.

" I've watched the leaking wellhead and BP's robots trying to plug it the last few weeks and it looks to me like all the leaking fluids go straight upward. If hydrates or an ultra high pressure bubble were forming, I would think it would be visible from one of the many robot cameras views we've seen on the live webcasts. We've seen the substrate near the leaking well. It's muddy and turbulent, but all we've seen drifting by is what looks like white shell fragments and an occasional eel."

He said that on June 17th and maybe it was after that, that we started seeing the video of oil and gas clearly bubbling up from the ocean floor around the wellhead. In any case, it clearly is happening. Senator Nelson made a big issue of it in his press conference two weeks ago. This may need to be revisited by DEP.

Also, in the transcript of the press conference given by Thad Allen on June 25th which was sent to me in the Deepwater Horizon memo, he completely dismisses any notion of a methane bubble. That in my opinion is irresponsible and worrisome. There is clearly a lot of methane down in that reserve and the government needs to be paying attention to it. We the taxpayers deserve an honest and full explanation of their findings.

I would ask that the Governor's office immediately set up a panel of experts that have credibility with the public (so for instance if you had five experts, then no more than one would work for DEP) to review the pros and cons on this issue and to come out with a finding that will be public. If the scientists who are concerned are right and there were to be a catastrophic event(s) it seems that Florida would take the brunt of it. I don't see how the state can not want to know all that it can possibly know about this and share it with the public. If you truly believe that we are not in danger, then you need to get that out to people.

DISPERSANTS – Would you please request from your contacts at BP or the Coast Guard, a complete list of dates, locations and amounts of dispersants that have been released? GPS coordinates would be fine for locations. I know this information must be available and the state has a right to know how close it is getting to Florida waters. If you would pass it on to me I would greatly appreciate it. Also, I would like to request that DEP contract with a reputable lab to do daily sampling of Florida waters for dispersants. If this is already being done then please advise me as to where I can review it. We need to have our state waters line sampled in several locations, as well as beaches and inland waters. Since DEP is apparently doing extensive data collection to document damages in the future, then it may be relatively easy for them to add dispersants to the list of samples that they take from inland and near shore waters. I repeat that it would be ideal to have our state water line that is 9.5 miles offshore, also sampled daily in several locations.

AIR QUALITY – As I understand what you have told me, so far the DEP has only sampled air quality for oil related pollutants in Apalachicola and Wakulla? Is this correct? I would like to request that air monitors be set up on Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach, and Okaloosa Island this week. As the storm blows the oil closer and we are likely to have winds from the south and southwest, it is critical that people have information about air quality to make informed decisions. You can't advertise for people to come here and visit and then not make this important information available. Plus, permanent residents have a right to know if they are breathing toxic air on a regular basis. I would like the air tested either twice a day (early morning and just after dark) or constantly for such pollutants as: benzene, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and methylene chloride and any other suspected pollutants that could be expected. As I have said before, the air is often bad enough that you can't be outside for any length of time. Surely the state wants to know if it's residents are in danger and give us the option of making informed decisions about the risk we assume by staying in our homes for an extended period of time.

STORMS – The news stations tell us to expect more oil to get blown to shore by the TS Alex which is entering the lower Gulf of Mexico. That makes sense. Would you please make sure that larger booms are deployed to the greatest extent possible? The little sausage booms that are so popular in this disaster response are barely effective in calm seas and will be totally worthless in larger waves.

In closing, I want to thank you for all you efforts to effectively communicate what the Governor's office and your agencies are doing to address this disaster. I'm hoping that all of your efforts will be successful. I continue to request that you secure more and better technology out in the Gulf to stop the oil from coming to shore. This would include boats and skimmers, booms and other devices that you find to be effective. I would also ask that when local governments request money for local protective measures, if you choose to deny their requests that you simultaneously provide some alternative protection that is demonstrated (or believed for good reason) to be equally or more protective. It is unhelpful for the state to deny our local governments the money to do the best that they can to protect their local resources and then not provide any sort of solution to the growing contamination that is occurring in our local waters. Our estuaries, marshes, streams, grassbeds, oysterbeds, etc MUST BE PROTECTED. I know that the state is concerned about scam-artists, bogus devices, etc. that will surely surface during this crisis situation, but it will be better to err on the side of making a few mistakes than to do nothing.

I look forward to hearing from you on the above questions and requests. I know it's a lot to ask, but I will pass on your information to the members of my organization and all the people that they share my updates with, which is growing every day. Thank you again for all your efforts and assistance."

That is the end of my letter. Here is what I have learned since then from the state and from EPA in Atlanta:

DISPERSANTS - The US EPA is only testing for dispersants in waters around Louisiana. There is apparently no testing for dispersants being done off the coast of Florida, on the theory that dispersants are not being sprayed in Florida waters, so therefore there is no need. Even though DEP is taking hundreds of water quality samples that will be used to build a case for damages from BP down the road, they are not testing for dispersants at all.

METHANE BUBBLE – See above. I also received a fact sheet from the state regarding methane related to offshore drilling. It was unhelpful. I was told that the state is looking into the question that I posed in the email above, but I have received no further helpful information regarding my concern about the methane gas issue.

Air Quality – Below is what I got from the state. After talking to many people in government, I don't see any evidence that they want to know if the air is safe or not. Or the water for that matter.

Four VOC monitors have been established in Florida at: Naval Air Station Pensacola, Panama City Beach, Ft. Walton, and Eastpoint. Two of the monitors are run by EPA (with state assistance) and two are run entirely by the state. Both EPA and DEP monitors are sited according to EPA criteria established for this purpose.
The monitors are located where populations are more concentrated and better represent the air quality most local citizens are breathing; the locations are also adequate to assess ambient air quality at the coast. Direct placement of the monitors on or adjacent to the beach would not be considered the most ideal location. In this case, though, the Naval Air Station monitor is actually located just off the beach, so we have at least one location this is located adjacent to the beach. Also very important to note, the sites have to be in secured locations to protect the equipment. We believe that all four sites adequately balance all the considerations that need to be made in placing the monitors. [MY NOTE: the Naval Air Station is not located just off the beach].

We characterize the air monitoring effort for the oil spill as EPA's effort. Florida is assisting EPA in this effort. To improve and augment coverage for Florida citizens, the state has added the two sites for VOC monitoring. In addition to the DEP monitoring results, we will soon be posting the EPA VOC monitoring results on the DEP air monitoring web page (

EPA's website:

CLEAN UP TECHNOLOGY: Numerous people have sent me questions about who to contact to share clean-up technology. Here's what I got from the state:

Below are links to be used by citizens who wish to submit for evaluation, or bring to the attention of decision-makers, technologies for use in connection with the oil contamination. <>

Innovative Technology Evaluation Sheet

I hope this information will be helpful to you. As always, there is so much to tell, and I know it can be overwhelming. Many of you have written me with specific questions and that's great. I'll try to answer each one as they come in. Have a great weekend and I will do the same. You'll hear from me again next week.

For all of Florida's waters,
Linda Young

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