Here’s what our government is saying about the BP oil spill:

“In early June we aggressively increased our focus on skimmers to combat the oil leaking from BP’s well,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who heads the federal spill response team. Adm. Allen said Friday there are 550 skimmers of various sizes working in the Gulf today, up from 100 large skimmers at the beginning of June.” WSJ.com

And this:

“The new boats bring to 220 the number primarily working the Alabama coast, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials. There are another 158 in Mississippi and 112 in nearby areas of Florida. ” CBSNews.com

Meanwhile, amid all of these conflicting reports, I received this message from a trusted and highly knowledgeable source who lives on the Mississippi coast:

“There are not these numbers of skimmers in Mississippi. I know of no one who has ever seen a single one. What are they calling a skimmer boat? Are they calling a boat that can pull boom a skimmer, even if it has no means of removing oil from the water? There is no doubt that the Vessels of Opportunity program is a hush money program. It neutralizes the voices of everyone who signs up. They have to swear not to talk to the media (or to anyone for that matter) about their experience. They’re told that they will be fired if they do. So, they can’t fish. The BP money is the only game in town and that will be taken away from them if they complain. I don’t blame the commercial boat operators; most have no choice but to participate. BP isn’t trying to get much useful value from the program. The fleet of 500 boats they claim in Mississippi didn’t spot the oil before it arrived despite the fact that BP said they were actively patrolling. Problem is the boats were given no direction, no sector to search, no search pattern, no reporting… just leave the dock and don’t come back until your shift is over.”

“Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana’s hard-hit Plaquemines Parish, said BP and the coast guard provided a map of the exact locations of 140 skimmers that were supposedly cleaning up the oil. But he said after he repeatedly asked to be flown over the area so he could see them at work, officials told him only 31 skimmers were on the job. “I’m trying to work with these guys,” he said. “But everything they’re giving me is a wish list, not what’s actually out there.” A BP spokesman declined to comment.” WKRG.com

Lies, rhetoric, confusion, obfuscation and despair seem to the order of the day in the Gulf.

There are heroic efforts throughout the Gulf as workers and volunteers fight to save their world and the countless species that inhabit the region. Inland fields are being flooded to encourage birds to settle in safety and then there’s this extraordinary project:

“As the oil spill coats Gulf Coast beaches, rescuers are hatching a daring plan to save as many as 70,000 sea turtle eggs from the disaster.” NPR.org

It is a massive undertaking with no guarantee of success. In the next few weeks 700-800 nests will be painstakingly excavated, the eggs carefully packed and FedExed to the Atlantic coast of Florida. It is a gamble – but if nothing is done then the sea turtles face death and possible extinction.

As the rest of the nation celebrates this weekend, there is little light, hope or faith for the people in the Gulf states. All they ask is the truth. All they want are honest answers to such questions as “where did the money go?” Mississippi alone received two block grants of $25 million each for spill preparation and response – and $15 million for tourism promotion. But what, exactly, has been done with those funds in that there is no tangible evidence of equipment and action on the Mississippi coast? Who is accountable for the spending of the monies? Has it simply entered the great sinkhole of state and local bureaucracies?

The people in the Gulf need answers – not more “spin” from politicians and BP.

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Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.