Industry-sponsored "Clean Gulf" conference draws fire

10/20/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:


Six months ago today, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven workers. The deep water well may have been dead for three months, but the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil that spewed left a stain on the Gulf Coast’s environment as well as its economy. Entities involved in the cleanup touted their response efforts, but not without getting an earful from critics.

The annual Clean Gulf conference is in its twentieth year, but this is the first one since the Deepwater Horizon well blowout. Phil Wieczynski, Chief of the Bureau of Emergency Response at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, says it attracts businesses as well as government agencies involved in all aspects of the Gulf response.

One of the companies showing off its wares at this conference in the Tampa Convention Center is Nalco, the company that makes oil dispersant Corexit. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of the stuff was dumped into the water to keep oil from the gusher from hitting the shore. This is why Christine Law is protesting across the street from the conference.

Today Law is one of two protesters at the start of the demonstration, and says yesterday there were around half a dozen. She says a big concern is that dispersants make the Gulf cleanup effort nearly impossible.

Scientists, including some from the University of South Florida, say there is still large amount of weathered oil from the BP well in the gulf, which may a result of dispersant use. Law says she’s also concerned about Corexit’s possible health effects.

New Jersey-based environmentalist Phillip Langer came to Tampa specifically to protest dispersants.

But Captain John Caplis of the US Coast Guard, says anyone protesting the use of dispersants is misinformed.

He says there will always be a trade-off involved when responding to a disaster of this magnitude, and that dispersants were used only used when there was no other alternative.

WMNF asked representatives from Nalco for comment, but they repeatedly declined. They said their Web site refutes all claims questioning the safety of Corexit. Law says she thinks the company wants to keep the public from knowing what’s in the chemical formula.

Panels and speeches taking place during the conference were open to the press, but video and audio recording as well as photography were not allowed. Wiescynski of FDEP claims this was not an attempt to stifle public information, but rather to encourage open discussion.

Protester Christine Law, who says she wants to see the Environmental Protection Agency ban Corexit, says there’s a bigger-picture issue here as well.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that during yesterday’s keynote address, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana president Billy Nungesser walked out in the middle of a speech by BP response leader Mike Utsler. Critics say the tone at the Clean Gulf conference was too self-congratulatory and focused on blaming the media instead of discussing concrete ways to prevent another Deepwater Horizon. Also at the conference, an Exxon Mobil spokesperson said a cap and siphon device could kill an oil leak within weeks instead of months.

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