Oil Spill:Nightmare on the Homefront/Phantasy Friday

I left the house to do research for a WIP, only to end up completely sidetracked. 

Along the beaches I normally frequent, sick unease grew on seeing literally mile upon mile of oil boom, stretched like a floating orange demarcation line. Strung across the mouth of Bay St. Louis, the entrance to Pass Christian Harbor and other places in preparation for the encroaching oil slick from the sunken rig off Louisiana, it seemed a pitiful defense against the vastness of the Gulf. Dead wildlife washing ashore for over a week now a warning in itself of what’s coming. 

I stopped at Pass Christian Harbor, home port for my shrimping years. As I walked along the breakwater the sun 

Pass Christian Harbor

pressed on my shoulders, urging me to sit. My belief system means I listen to nature’s suggestions. I sat. And was nearly overwhelmed. The salt air smelled sweet. Waves lapped off-rhythm against rocks, or hissed through sand along the shore as they retreated back into the sea. There was enough breeze to make the heat bearable. But the longer I sat the more uneasy I became. Behind me restless winds moaned low through the rigging of anchored vessels, plucked nervously at the lines and tackle of nearby sailboats, the  metallic clanging providing a background reminiscent of distant, discordant alarms. My gaze swept the coastline, sands so white I had to squint against the brilliance. How long would they remain pristine?

I paid attention. Began to notice things already missing. 

Long piers usually host to countless pelicans and gulls carried pitifully few birds. The typically busy live bait spot was closed. Waters closed to sports and commercial fishermen growing ever larger, few people indulged in fishing in the area.  Shrimp boats pushed through the water, exhausts gargling as they rolled slightly to make the dog-leg into the harbor. But no dolphins frolicked alongside. Gone was the familiar drape of nets from outriggers. 

Oil boom on standby


Piers minus pelicans

                                                                                                                                                                                Instead they’re equipped with long metal booms for laying and gathering the oil boom bobbing on standby in the water. Their grim-faced operators reminded me of field-tested warriors. Yet they returned the salute of my lifted hand in passing without fail. 

 Warriors, I tried the word again.  Yes, it fit. These are men and women who battle tides and weather, wave and storm, even the clock as they work to the last possible moment to increase their catch. Then they hurry in to unload their shrimp, fish, oysters and crabs. Sometimes gliding smoothly over sunset tinted waters, sometimes having to split rough waves, hulls slapping down with enough jarring force to sling spray and foam across the bow, send water in sluicing swirls over the deckboards. 

They’ve endured unfair bureaucratic practices. Been subjected to exorbitant licensing fees between dueling States. Penalizing taxation. Have adjusted the very way they fish to accommodate mandates such as TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices) to protect other species. And now they stand as the immediate–and last–staunch line of defense, ready to battle hand-to-hand against this insidious enemy. An enemy that, if not stopped, will smother the very thing that has provided for their families for the past hundred years. 

Some of them can trace a direct line to shrimping by sail. To times when men set out their nets by hand, cursing stinging sea nettles, green-head flies and mosquitoes as they waded waist to chest deep, working in a circle to regain the boat only to begin the arduous task of dragging the nets–and hopefully fish and shrimp–back aboard by hand. Times when catches weren’t brought back to the conveyor-belted docks but hand collected by seafood buyers on a barge anchored out from shore. Their catch was offloaded and tallied as fresh ice was passed aboard their vessel in sacks and baskets. The flapping sound of sails gone luft accompaniment to shouted business dealings until it bellied with a snap, drawing the vessel back to fertile waters to begin fishing again. So much history is at risk here. 

Captain Aaron Jr., rigged for oil boom


Small but large of heart, the Lady Lucie

 Fingers are pointed at Louisiana now. But we need to point at ourselves as well. Every one of us drives a gas-powered vehicle. Our demand as a nation drives the oil industry. It’s oversimplifying and I apologize for it ahead of time, because I sure don’t make light of this devastating situation. But what’s happened can be compared to a house fire turned wild fire. We live with the possibility every day, but never really believe it will happen to us. After all, we teach our kids not to play with matches. Take care when cooking. Preach the danger of storing gasoline for the lawnmower too close to the water heater. We clean the chimney to remove the flammable soot. Provide fire ladders for escape.

Yet nothing prepares you for a lightning strike. No way to react fast enough when that can of paint remover is accidentally tipped over and spilled, ignited by heat from the power sprayer we’re using to paint the house. It’s a sick feeling when you can’t remember the last time you tested the fire extinguisher and it’s all that stands between you and destruction. You’ve known all along you should have maintained it, and you fully intended to, but it’s too late once you hear the whump of combustion. 

We need to realize the oil field isn’t the only thing needing closer scrutiny. We need to take the opportunity apply what we’ve just learned.  There are equally devastating possibilities close to home. Mobile Bay contains one of the largest LNG storage areas in America. People voted it in for the tremendous employment and business opportunities, completely disregarding the fact that Liquid Natural Gas has an expansion rate of 400 to 1 when ignited. 

Yes, four hundred to one. I’m not going to tell you the storage capacity around the bay. Some things carry more impact when looked up for yourself. But try setting a five gallon bucket in the middle of the yard. Then imagine what it would be like to blink, just blink, and have four hundred five gallon buckets out there now. That got your attention, did it? Imagine a single fifty thousand gallon storage tank. Only now it’s a hole–four hundred times larger than the tank that used to be there. I can tell you Mobile Bay as we know it won’t exist, and Florida and Mississippi will be forever altered.  We have a nuclear reactor in Port Gibson, as well. Deep Water Horizon should impress the need to insist on strict regulations and preventative measures to ensure a land based catastrophe of oil-spill proportions doesn’t happen.  

That oil’s a black wave of destruction and it’s coming, folks. And we all need to be ready to fight in whatever capacity we can. Hurricane Katrina tested us when she swept through, altering lives and landscape. Even our five hundred year old live oaks were no match for her. Rather than totally discard them, an artist with a chainsaw turned them into works of art, so at least something of them survived. 

Turtle, dolphin, & crab from Katrina destroyed live oak


Only now I’m worried his renditions may be the only dolphins, turtles, pelicans, herons and egrets we’ll have for decades. All I can say is, if you really love it, take steps to protect it. 

Solitary pelican


Carved herons and egrets against the sky


6 Responses

  1. This has totally depressed me. I’m so sad about the whole thing. We ALL know there are other forms of energy but the almighty dollar is what drives the companies to keep them out of our hands. We as individuals can make a difference but until big business gets on board (which sadly, I believe will be never) the big picture will remain bleak.

    • Didn’t meant to depress you, woman. It’s just this entire situation eats at me. And things that made me uncomfortable before the oil spill, currently scare the crap out of me. If it happened in the Gulf, it can happen on land. I want to know what’s being done to protect us!

  2. This whole thing has upset me a lot — as you can tell from my twitter posts about how much I hate BP. The average working folks are gonna get screwed (as usual) by politicians who will sell their soul to big industry. Am furious, heartbroken and helpless all at the same time.

    • I’m right there with you, Ro’mama. I’m furious that skimmer boats and vacum boats aren’t at the spill site right now.

      Having run offshore supply vessels, I know directional drilling can hit dead on from MILES away. Remember when a particular foreign government sat in international waters (and Cuban waters), and Florida’s underground oil supply was the target of their drilling rigs? The relief wells should have been in within three weeks–MAXIMUM.

  3. CHiming in late. Runere, you expressed our feelings beautifully. I am, however. also extremely pissed off over the whole mess–BP and Obama. Greed and incompetence are destroying our world and we are helpless to do anything. It may never be the same again-at least not in my life time. Today we found out that BP has lied to us all along about the amount of oil lost daily. Also today, the WHite HOuse has announced that he will meet with BP’s CEO next week. That should be about two months AFTER the tragedy. I can feel my BP rising so I will quit now. Great post, Runere. RitaVF

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