Despite the months-long news coverage of this summer’s Gulf oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the public still may not know the whole story, according to a panel held Thursday.
In Kroon Hall Thursday evening, a government official, a scientist, a journalist and a coastguard lieutenant came together to discuss the disaster and how various groups responded. In front of nearly 80 graduate students, professors and members of the New Haven community, the four panelists analysed the long-term effects of the spill, which flowed for three months, on public policy and science. While students in attendance said the panel allowed them to understand the environmental mishap from a range of perspectives, some said they were surprised by the lack of attention given to BP, the company whose Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused the spill.
Panelist, science writer and author Mark Schrope was on the ground at the oil spill from early on, joining a ship of scientists to explore the breadth of the disaster.
“Like everyone else, I thought this was going to be over very quickly,” Schrope said. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Schrope argued that the media played up the oil spill in order to gain public attention, but in doing so, the media unintentionally suggested that the spill was akin to a lake of oil sitting in the ocean, he said. Schrope said many people were talking about the Gulf in terms of survival and absolute destruction, when in fact the situation was somewhere in between.
This misunderstanding led to tension between journalists, scientists and emergency response services, Schrope said.
But within these groups, people worked together to an impressive degree, John Kessler, assistant professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University, said.
“This is by far the best collaborative science effort I have seen in years,” Kessler said. “Everyone worked together in order to ensure that the length of this disaster was shortened.”
A key action in reversing the effects of the spill was the use of chemical dispersants by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to accelerate the oil dispersal.
When one audience member questioned why the agency had not been prepared for such a disaster earlier, panelist and environmental chemistry professor Paul Anastas, who is an assistant administrator for research and development in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the agency’s current regulations need to be reviewed.
“There are lessons to be learned,” Anastas said. “The response to this oil spill will only be able to be judged in retrospect and that story will be told.”
Jamie Collins FES ’11, lieutenant of the US Coast Guard, also described the political pressure the government imposed on the agencies working to clean up the spill.
Students at the event said they enjoyed the range of experiences the panelists shared.
“These were real experiences unlike what you hear on CNN,” David Parsons FES ’11 said. “It was great getting to hear from those on the ground and in the water.”
But Shelby Semmes FES ’11 said she was surprised the talk did not address BP’s mismanagement of the situation.
The Gulf oil spill began after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 people and injured 17 others on April 20.