News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Denny Takahashi Kelso
Denny Kelso is the Executive Vice President at Ocean Conservancy, living and working in Santa Cruz, California. Denny is a true champion for our ocean, having devoted more than 25 years to ocean conservation and protecting fragile environments in the Alaskan Arctic. When he is not advocating for strong ocean conservation policy, Denny enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter outdoors, backpacking in the Sierra Mountains or spying on marine life from the shore.
Photo: Valdez-Cordova Census Area County, Alaska/Creative Commons
On March 24, 1989, a few hours after the Exxon Valdez spill began, Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper and I boarded the tanker. At the time I was serving as Alaska’s commissioner of environmental conservation. We flew on a single-engine floatplane from the town of Valdez to a cove near the tanker, hitched a ride on a Coast Guard boat, climbed a long rope ladder dangling from the deck, and found our way up to the bridge. From there, we could see that there was hardly any response activity underway.
After several hours, we flew back to Valdez, where we went directly into a community meeting—still wearing our oily boots—to report on what we had seen on the water. Already on the stage of the community hall were Exxon officials, who had arrived from Houston. The auditorium crackled with tension; the audience, including many fishermen—who for years had opposed the shipping of oil by tanker and who felt that their livelihoods were at stake—were angry and frightened. It reminded me that a big oil spill is always a human crisis, not just an environmental disaster.
My latest Huffington Post piece calls for a New Year’s resolution that protects our ocean from reckless oil drilling. We’re two weeks into 2013, and Shell Oil has already made headlines with several missteps, including losing control of one of its Arctic drill rigs in the Gulf of Alaska.
How many strikes will Shell get before the Obama administration agrees to stop Arctic drilling operations at this time? The latest failure on Shell’s part – violation of EPA air permits – is even more striking considering that Shell had proposed the more lenient permit levels, and even those levels didn’t suffice. The Interior Department’s review of the 2012 drilling season should be thorough, comprehensive and objective; and until the results are made public, operations should not move forward.
The Arctic is an unforgiving environment, and oil companies like Shell are not in control. In light of Shell’s demonstrated inability to carry out safe, responsible Arctic operations, the Interior Department’s forthcoming assessment must be transparent, objective and comprehensive in scope — including a rigorous investigation of Shell’s drilling rig and oil spill response equipment failures.
Shell’s pattern of failures and near-misses demands an honest and thoughtful reconsideration of the company’s plans for the Arctic. We need a time-out on Arctic drilling until we have improved our understanding of the region, protected important ecological and subsistence areas, and developed effective methods to clean up an oil spill in icy Arctic water.
Have you heard that Coast Guard officials recently confirmed an oil slick found in the Gulf of Mexico last week matched oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster? Indeed, while the BP spill may be a distant memory to some, the Gulf still feels the effects today. The Coast Guard has said the oil slick “does not post a threat to the shoreline,” but it will certainly affect the Gulf’s offshore waters, which are just as vital to the region’s overall health.
In my latest Huffington Post piece, I weigh in on the threats this oil continues to pose in the Gulf and discuss the ways Ocean Conservancy continues to work toward marine restoration in this important area. One project helps point baby turtles back to sea:
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.
Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.
The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.
To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration. Continue reading »
There is a fundamental disconnect here, and it suggests that we will repeat — rather than learn from — crucial mistakes that led up to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. When the oil industry and the Interior Department talk about “adequate spill response capacity,” they really mean the ability to mobilize oil containment and removal equipment and to make a substantial effort to get oil out of the water or off the shoreline.
But when a major oil spill occurs, the people who are in the path of the spill, as well as most of the rest of us, expect that “adequate spill response capacity” means the ability to contain and remove a large percentage of the spill — not just a good faith effort that cleans up a relatively small portion of the discharged oil.