June 25th, 2010
02:38 PM ET

Gulf Dispatch: An aerial view of ruthless oil's impact

Philippe Cousteau, Gov. Charlie Crist and others fly over the oil disaster.

Editor's note: Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau. Philippe heads the nonprofit organization EarthEcho International (www.earthecho.org).

Thump-thump-thump went the heavy blades as I felt the Black Hawk slowly start to whir to life and heave its hulking weight forward.

As a part of my mission to tell the stories of what is going on in the Gulf states affected by the oil crisis, I had been told we would take a helicopter trip out to survey the Florida and Alabama coasts, but I had not expected to travel in one of these huge military machines so familiar to anyone who watches modern Hollywood war movies.

Across from me was Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, and next to him sat Gen. Douglas Burnett, the director of the Florida National Guard.

As the ground slowly fell away from us, I peered out into the glaring midday sun and braced myself for the worst.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that waking up early is not my favorite thing to do, especially when four or five hours of sleep has been the norm over the past several weeks.

However, a 5:45 a.m. wakeup call is made all the worse when instead of birds singing, the only morning greeting is the slight smell of noxious oil hanging in the air and the sight of thick black muck slowly seeping into what would otherwise be beautiful fine white sand.

Unfortunately, that has become the usual for many of the people who live along the Gulf these days, and so it was for me.

Now I was flying in a machine designed for war, only this time it was not hunting any human adversary. Instead, our mission was to fly reconnaissance over a different type of enemy, one that has no rifles, no rockets, no tanks, but that has nonetheless infiltrated our country as effectively as any spy and as ruthlessly as any guerrilla warrior.

The oil that we have grown addicted to has now reared its ugly head and is slowly laying waste to a huge swath of our country.

As we flew over the Florida coast and made our way toward Alabama, we could see patches of thick orange oil interspersed with sheen dotted throughout the water beneath us.

On the beach, a solid black line of oil lay along the white sand like a long black snake sunning itself. Just offshore, pods of dolphin could be seen swimming through the oil. After over an hour, we landed on a dry patch of land near the beach and held an impromptu press conference with the governor and various VIPs.

We visited the crews along the beach as they worked to pick up the oil, wearing hazmat clothing in the 90-plus-degree heat. Oil was everywhere, and it seemed overwhelming. The men and women would work for hours, shoveling and raking up the oil, but despite their efforts, large black stains still dotted the shoreline as the sticky mass sank into the sand.

My colleague Denny Kelso, executive vice president of Ocean Conservancy, one of the leading ocean conservation organizations in the country, looked at me, and I could see the grim look of horror in his eyes. Denny had been the commissioner of the environment for the state of Alaska during the Exxon Valdez oil spill 21 years ago, and this scene was all too familiar.

As we headed back into the hulking Black Hawks, I felt the magnitude of what lay before us: This enemy was not going away without a formidable fight, one that will last for years and even decades.

But as we lifted off and flew over the beaches, the workers toiling away in the sun, I also felt a renewed sense of determination. The men and women on that beach, fighting the relentless heat and the even more relentless oil, were not giving up. Many of them were from Pensacola, and to me, they represent the best of us, people determined to fight for what they love in the face of overwhelming odds.

We landed at the Pensacola airport and headed toward Mobile, where I was due to co-host a fundraiser for the Mobile Baykeeper alongside Bobby Kennedy Jr., one of the greatest environmental heroes in our country today. The Mobile Baykeeper is another group of individuals determined to do whatever it takes to defeat this new foe.

Just like the workers on the beach, I knew that groups like the Mobile Baykeeper could be found across the Gulf and across the country, people who would never give up. I knew that as long as they continued to fight, there would always be hope.

soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Captain D

    She claims she had Faux News onboard of her personal vessel and went out and saw all these fish dying. Faux News videotaped it according to her account. However, there is no evidence on their site. Why? Because she's a liar. If she has done all of this and feels it's being covered up, why hasn't she videotaped it herself? Why didn't she then display her video at this event? Why, because she's a liar. This whole event is a lie. She's pathetic.

    June 26, 2010 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • SCE

      And you believe FAUX Noise would actually report real news?
      Fox is run by GOP Friendly Corporation one that makes it's money from advertising so do you really believe they would show their sponsors in a bad light? You want to see un-corrupted news go to democracynow dot org That is listener supported news they don't have to worry about killing there corporate pay check they don't get one!

      June 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • livinginpensacola

      You think this woman is a liar? Why would she make up anything?
      All she is protecting are her people and her children.
      BYW, do you live down here where there is a stinch in
      the air and no one trust going into the water. And people
      are actually considering leaving the area because
      it is unsafe. You, Captain D, need to take
      a boat out on the water and film it yourself!
      Show us the dying marine life. You are obviously
      someone who loves BP and money!

      June 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • useifnot


      June 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bathsheba

    A bunch of pretty words for a situation that is self evident. I hope those workers have respirators otherwise we are simply exposing innocent people to major health hazards. a year from now we will hear about all the sick and dead clean-up crews.

    June 26, 2010 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. truth is a weapon

    captain D, perhaps you should do a bit of research yourself, you will find out that everything she says it true. you think shes lying... how about you take your kids down there for a little vacation....

    June 26, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dale E. Goate

    For an absolutely thorough rebuke of Tony Hayward, check out this article.


    June 26, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jim

    Write or email the President to demand an immediate reduction of the speed limit on all highways to 60 mph max in order to save gasoline. It was dropped to 55 in response to the oil crisis of the mid 70's. It worked. Oil is too precious to be wasted and driving over 60 wastes 10%. On average, vehicles have their best gas mileage at between 58 and 61 mph. This reduction would also save lives and reduce injuries. Spread the suggestions to everyone and encourage them to do the same. If the President doesn't drop the limit, drop your own speed for the good of the nation and invite others to do the same. You will save some real money in the process. Make the suggestion every time you go on a message board

    June 26, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Arglebargle

      Why not do more and reduce it to 30MPH? No one needs to be going 60
      (well, except for those big pickups pulling the huge boats).

      Better yet, require all vehicles to have at least 2 persons in them.

      Also that they have tune-ups and properly inflated tires, that they are clean
      (reduced air drag), and that the drivers have insurance.

      June 27, 2010 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  6. LemonTea

    Jim: If they reduce the speed limit in NJ, we will get to work two days later. NJ & NYC are huge, concrete parking lots. I would suspect major metropolitan areas in California are as well. Reducing the speed limit is not going to one thing to stop BP's oil. Just cap the thing already, and then we can talk about the long term/short term environmental effects. Right now, let's all just pray this stuff doesn't ignite, or get sprayed all over the Eastern seaboard by the first hurricane of the season. Then, we need to deal with the outcomes of that. And, not a single person should be scooping up oil, or sailing their tiny boats into the slick. Let BP take responsibility for their gross negligence. It's time we stop spending money and apologizing for the mistakes of others upon our land.

    June 26, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  7. robert

    Seriously. Can't McDonalds make a giant plastic straw, and I mean like a "Biggie SIzed" one to suck the oil out of the ocean? Or, get a bunch of Hummers down on the beach to mash the Oil into the Sand so we can't see it?
    There are options, America. You betcha!

    June 26, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Fast Food Fran

      I agree we should have Ronald McDonald run a Super Size Straw from the Oil leak into Mayor McCheese’s Rump with a Connector cable Directly into BP Boot Licker Rand Paul’s Head, there is plenty of room there to store the Oil.

      June 26, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. kathleen

    All that time in the air and NO video to go with story ?
    WHO does Not already know that a picture tells a thousand words .

    Videos or widescape pics with captions PLEASE .

    June 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. James Butt

    There are 2 Navy subs with depth range to 5000 feet with access chambers that can be pressurized to exclude seawater and control oil flow while repairing the leaks directly. Why have these subs not been deployed? Are they no longer operational?? Is their capacity to handle this problem overrated? DSRV 1 & 2 Jane's Fighting Ships 1995-96 p851

    June 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Big oil will kill us all

    Any of these questions that are asking, "well why don't they do this" or "why don't they do that" can be answered quite simply. Nothing is being done to fix this unprecedented ecological disaster because our government has decided that fighting a faceless enemy in Afghanistan is far more important than our own environment and livelihood. Instead of taking charge for our own natural resources, we've put the responsibility in BP's hands to clean up a mess they've created. It's a mess that will now surely ruin our ocean and all its wildlife. I can tell you straight up, BP is not going to spend one more cent than they absolutely have to in order clean their mess up. That's why, unless something drastic happens (like the U.S. government actually doing something logical for once), the Gulf of Mexico is going to be nothing more than a cess pool full of rotting animal corpses. I live in MT, but I'm planning on traveling to the gulf to do MY part, because my government lacks the balls to do anything itself. Stories like this one make me disgusted! Why aren't you outraged Mr. Cousteau???!! Your grandfather is rolling in his grave, and all you can say is, "there's still hope"????!! I don't see any hope here. Not under our half-assed leadership and our death addiction to oil and meaningless war!!!

    June 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arglebargle

      And good riddance to us all, too. Let the other animals have the planet...humans certainly don't deserve it.

      June 27, 2010 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. Richard P

    The Federal government should allow the companies that have a vested interst in these rigs 10 days to fix a leak.
    THEREAFTER the the feds bomb the hole to stop the leak.

    Simple solution that has worked other places in the recent past.

    WHY let BP keep the oil and sell it on the market while all the America's will be hurt.

    2,3, 4 months at 1,000,000 gals. daily and we wait?

    WHY? BOMB IT AND BE DONE. Let BP get another lease somewhere else.

    June 26, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big oil will kill us all

      Well said. I'm pretty sure we've shipped all of our bombs to the Middle East though lol. I'm still baffled at how our lovely, inefficient government can pass a multi billion dollar health care bill in a few weeks, but it doesn't even TRY to come up with a solution to something FAR more important than health care reform!

      June 26, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Terry

    Pretty much all Cousteau said was, There's oil in the ocean and on the beach, and, I get to hang out with a lot of important people. Oh, yes, and people are working to clean up. Nothing new here.

    June 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Benedict420

    Ron Gos

    [I don't understand why they can't use a powerful suction to suck up the oil escaping from the well head. They have a pipe already in place above the well head, why can't they attach a pump to the surface ship and vacuum all the escaping oil? Yes, it will suck in seawater as well, but that can be separated at the surface. Why is this not being done to prevent this tragic catastrophe from getting worse?]

    The reason: – As the methane gas expands it cools rapidly, like all gasses expanding after release from pressure. That not only freezes the water and the pipe, but it gets so cold the methane forms hydrates of methane which are light and cause the long tube to float and come off the BOP.

    Most Americans just can't understand the physics of a 26" pipe releasing oil and gas at 10.000 psi at a mile below the ocean. That is why we keep getting all the daft suggestions like the one above. If you did not take physics or snoozed through the class, then shut up as your suggestions have zero chance of being helpful.

    June 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron Gos

      Benedect420, it appears they have overcome the obstacles you mention with the pipe they currently have in place (the current pipe is drawing up oil despite the freezing methane and the buoying nature of resulting hydates thatyou mention). My suggestion is to add suction and vacuum to the pipe to attemt to suck in the escaping oil at the BOP.

      June 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      You sound like you know what you are doing - so does Dr. Robert Gottlieb, aerospace engineer who has a design that is NOT "daft" but cannot get through to anyone in authority. Bob designed part of our "missile defense intercept system" - no slouch...retired Boeing engineer. I hope this email only goes to you - if you can get him in touch with anyone who will LISTEN and look at simple line drawings, please contact him at (832) 244-4408

      June 27, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    I'd think that closing that well-head would be the first priority. Easiest way is to do that the same way you'd snuff out a burning oil-well on land, set off a large explosion right next to it. Collapse the well-head, the ocean floor will take care of the rest.

    I am sure our beloved Navy is quite capable of doing this (in fact, I know they can).

    As for the oil that's already on the surface (and remember, 'dying fish' is for the most part BS, oil floats, try it for yourself, just take a little water in a glass, put some motor oil in the glass, note the effect, birds are a different matter, fish that surface for air ('mammals') as well), it can be 'caught' and towed to other locations, and as thus 'collected' in a few locations. Sure, it takes a LOT of power to move a large oil slick, or a chunk of it. Proposal: use aircraft carriers, practically unlimited power, 'clean' (nuclear powered), fast (very fast actually), etc.. Connect two with a miles long 'collector cable', have them move in the same direction, miles away from each other.. that oil slick will be gone in no time.

    June 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darryl Phillips

      Nonsense. Motor oil is highly refined and won't quickly mix with water. But crude is another thing altogether, some of it dissolves in water easily, some evaporates, some disperses, some floats, some oxidizes, some does other things. The fish kill is very real and much happens hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface.

      The ocean floor will not "take care of the rest" after an explosion at the well head. The crude is under extreme pressure and would push through the sand. Remember than they tried putting hundreds of tons of heavy concrete down the hole, the pressure just pushed it out.

      As for the idea to take the oil away so it is "gone", what is gone? It is already 60 miles off coast. There is no place on the planet that is "gone".

      June 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JH1

    So who is the Cousteau character, the Paris Hilton of the environmental crowd? Famous for being famous and using taxpayer dollars to take an unneccessary disaster-tour like the politicians that think they'll have a better idea of what to do seeing it from an expensive helicopter than by looking at the CNN oil tracker map?

    June 26, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • JH1

      I mean, it's not like any of these talking heads actually have anything to do with the solution. That's 100% engineers and they'll fix it when they come up with a working solution regardless of how much hot air politicians/celebrities spew between now and then. The problem requires absolutely no helicopter rides or trips to the region by anyone except people that are actually tracking the slick to coordinate recovery and cleanup. All of these wasted tax dollars should be going to the cleanup and to pay the engineers that are actually doing something useful.

      June 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
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