Citizens’ advisory council for Gulf of Mexico holds first meeting

Representatives from U.S. states bordering the Gulf of Mexico met May 30 in New Orleans to “move forward with the establishment of a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council,” according to a press release from the group.

The group says they are modeling themselves after the councils in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, formed after the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in 1989.

Similar to the Valdez spill, oil industry and government complacency has been cited as underlying causes of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

“Our goal is to learn from lessons of the past and prepare for the future,” said Drew Landry, a native of Louisiana and one of the coordinators of the meeting.

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling endorsed the formation of a regional citizens’ advisory council, or RCAC, in the Gulf of Mexico and other regions with the potential to be affected by oil industry activities. Since then, Congress has taken no action to mandate such a council.

The Gulf group said that representatives from all principal Gulf of Mexico oil industry operators and associations were invited to join the meeting, including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Marine Well Containment Company, American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Oil & Gas Association, Texas Oil and Gas Association, Louisiana Mid – Continent Oil & Gas Association, and the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Organization. All declined.

“We believe we have strong existing avenues to meet with stakeholders to understand their concerns and incorporate input into our business plans and actions, and participation in a [Gulf of Mexico] RCAC is not a fit for us at this time” said ConocoPhillips’ Vice President William Bullock when declining the invitation, according to the Gulf council.

Representation on the Gulf of Mexico council will include major stakeholders in the region, including fishermen, tourism operators, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, indigenous people, local governments, scientists, and environmental groups.

“A working RCAC benefits everyone – it lowers the risk of future pollution incidents as well as costly future litigation, it improves future spill responses, and it builds trust and communication with local citizens,” said Dr. Bonny Schumaker, another coordinator of the meeting. Shumaker, a Gulf Coast resident, is president and founder of On Wings of Care, an organization that provides aerial monitoring in support of offshore and coastal ecology.

Meeting attendees proposed a budget of at least $10 million per year, to be funded through the existing federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. This fund comes from a nation-wide per-barrel fee on oil, paid by the oil industry.

“The Gulf citizens’ meeting yesterday was historic, and it’s a real shame the oil industry did not participate,” said Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska professor who helped form the Alaska councils, “We can’t undo the damage from the Deepwater Horizon, but we can and must do everything possible to prevent and better prepare for future such disasters and other oil impacts.”

“Ignoring us won’t make us give up,” said Jackie Antalan of Mobile, Alabama, “the Gulf Coast needs this citizens’ advisory council. We’ve waited three years for Congress to act on the recommendation from the oil spill commission, and now we’ve decided to act on it ourselves. We’re thinking it through, we’ll propose agreements to industry and government representatives, and we’ll ask Congress to adopt legislation as they did for Alaska to mandate and support the council’s existence.”

The group has used resources available from the Prince William Sound council. Some of those resources are available on a website of selected resources created in the aftermath of the spill in 2010. The website spotlights information the council believes could be useful to reporters, citizens, agencies, organizations, companies, and communities dealing with crude oil spills and other technological disasters. Visit: www.pwsrcac.info

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