Flyover of Deepwater Horizon

I’m not sure exactly why I was invited to do this, but a little over three weeks ago at about seven at night, I received a phone call from someone at the White House, inviting me to participate in a flyover of the former site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the current location of a cluster of clean-up crews.

I haven’t covered the Deepwater Horizon disaster with nearly the same passion and insight and detail as other bloggers in the State, but believe me, it’s not for lack of care; it’s because I’ve found myself so frustrated, disappointed, and angered about the whole thing that I simply haven’t been able to write coherently about the subject.

Eleven people dead. Five times worse than Exxon-Valdez. Oil seeping into our marshes and our estuaries and our beaches. A direct assault on our fishermen and an entire way of life.

The negligence, the lack of regulatory controls, the incentives given to cut corners, increase efficiencies, and ignore problems that could cause catastrophic disaster, the fact that this whole thing seemed preventable. The countless rescue workers who risked their own lives to respond to this disaster, the vast majority of whom lacked necessary safety equipment, and the unforeseen problems that this may create, like it did for those men and women who worked on the Exxon-Valdez response.

And the government?

On the federal level, it was too slow and way too dependent on BP’s PR machine. And, to me, our state government’s response was even worse: Overtly politicized, exploited by some as merely an opportunity to be seen on television, a response that was far too reliant on and defensive about “solutions” driven by engineers with contracts, instead of scientists with expertise.

It will take us years, if not decades, to understand the complete import of this disaster.

On Thursday, I boarded a Coast Guard reconnaissance plane, an HC-144A, with around five members of the mainstream media and about a dozen or so coast-guardsmen. From Lakefront Airport in New Orleans, it took about 45 minutes to finally arrive at the site. (I should make it clear that, although I had been invited by the White House, I took off work and traveled on my own time and dime).

Some pictures:

At the airport, AIR BP seemed to be the one and only provider of fuel.

The plane.

Prior to opening up the back hatch, the crew tied up a net of rope in order to prevent cameramen from falling overboard.

The media spectacle.

And the site:

I should report, first and foremost, that it was an incredible privilege and honor to join our Coast Guard on a reconnaissance flyover.

And second, no, I didn’t see any oil, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s no real surprise that they’ve managed to clean up the site of the disaster; I don’t think this is deserving of anyone’s praise or commendation. Regardless of what we may be led to believe, there is no doubt that the oil is still out there; it didn’t just magically disappear. We haven’t cleaned out all of it. And the jury is still out on the true efficacy and long-term effects of dispersants.

In many ways, this disaster is much more pernicious if it’s under the surface. We would all be wise to remember that, particularly before declaring “mission accomplished,” as much as we may want to.