Monday, May 27, 2013

Miners, if you can't afford safety then get out

Miners, if you can't afford safety then get out 

OPINION: Our South Island communities are being courted and consulted a little more vigorously than usual, thanks to an opportunity for the big mining companies to explore our ocean floors for signs of gas and oil.
These companies have known for a long time that there is potential for extraction in a number of offshore sites but, for one reason or another, the numbers simply haven't stacked up or the political environment has not been conducive. But things are different now and it seems the best opportunity to make some money is now.
It is not a fait accompli by any stretch of the imagination and in the current environment the best progress is going to be made when all community stakeholders are on board.
This is a big ask, as we saw this week when Conservation Minister Nick Smith announced Bathurst could proceed with opencast mining on the conservation estate.
The whole thing may yet be derailed by legal proceedings but Bathurst believes it can run a viable operation, with all the best practice initiatives in place, and still contribute $22 million to local conservation projects.
I fully understand that where all the factors are well known, associated management challenges are adequately mitigated and the safety issues are implemented and monitored well, then a reliable operation can be run.
This is particularly true of land-based mining.
It is important to note the economic viability of any mining needs to take all of these factors into consideration.
Cost savings when it comes to safety are not an option. A Rolls-Royce operation, which is what we deserve and what we should demand, comes at a cost and that will be the real leveller.
If the figures don't stack up: that is, you can't afford the safety, then get out of town.
The game is a little different in the open sea.
Anadarko is one of the companies that may be drilling in the Great South Basin and it has been actively engaging with iwi and many other community stakeholders.
Not surprisingly, they are talking about the innocuous impact of their exploration technology, and how friendly they are to whales and other charismatic mega-fauna.
All sorts of discussions are being had about how the company can make a meaningful contribution to the community, and ensure an enduring and productive long-term relationship.
Excuse my cynicism but these types of negotiations struggle to pass my sincerity test. That is not to say all multinationals with a reputation for natural resource exploitation should be tossed to the side but, for me, the hurdle is pretty high.
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Yesterday, I met with veteran activist Mike Smith and a photojournalist from the United States who was on the ground, and in the air, during the weeks following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
His view was that the incident, and the subsequent cleanup, was less than transparent and quite convoluted with deliberate misinformation and a poorly co-ordinated operation.
They particularly pointed out that Anadarko, one of the companies possibly operating off the South Island coastline, has been implicated in the Gulf of Mexico spill. Anadarko was a 25 per cent partner in the BP and Haliburton-led operation, although it claims it was only a financial partner.
Others argue that Anadarko was involved in critical decision-making.
It is certainly on the end of legal proceedings in the US that accuse it of not fully declaring how much it knew about the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the impact it would have on the value of the company.
My personal concern with any deep-sea drilling here is the ability to mitigate against any disaster.
I do not oppose the principle of mineral or fossil-fuel extraction but what if it all goes to crap?
It certainly did in the Gulf of Mexico and the means to tidy up the mess were far from adequate or effective.
The primary intervention was the use of something called Corexit, a dispersant that coagulates the spilt oil, which then disappears below the surface of the ocean.
Britain banned the use of Corexit dispersants in 1998 and many expert scientists believe it is more harmful than the oil itself.
A survey of the health impacts of Corexit on cleanup workers showed eye, nose and throat irritation, respiratory problems, blood in urine, rectal bleeding, seizures, nausea and violent vomiting, skin irritation, burning and lesions, short-term memory loss, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system damage, hypertension and miscarriages.
In New Zealand, the first line of defence, if we were to experience a significant oil spill, would be to use Corexit.
It was most recently used following the Rena crisis off Tauranga two years ago.
If that is as good as it gets, then it isn't good enough.

(for those in the US, mining in New Zealand is the same as what we refer to as drilling for oil)

Local doc presses BP claims

Local doc presses BP claims

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 11:42 am
In the weeks, months and years following the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, Dr. Mike Robichaux drew international attention as he cared for people he maintains were sickened by the incident’s aftermath, occasionally advocating on their behalf within the legal system.
And he’s not done.
The Mathews physician, who calls himself a “simple country doctor,” has been busy with a letter-writing campaign seeking to have the medical aspects of a class-action settlement re-defined. And although the federal judge overseeing the matter has approved a program for medical settlement that Robichaux faults, he is still not done.
“I realize that I’ve worn out my welcome over the last few months,” states a letter from Robichaux to U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier. “However, the health and care of my patients supersedes my reluctance to annoy you any further.”
Robichaux, a former Louisiana state senator and LSU football star, has also written the attorneys general of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. He wants them to look at his opinion – from a medical perspective – that the settlement process has been “corrupted” because it ignores matters he sees of clear medical importance.
Robichaux’s letter questions the manner in which claims of illness are being handled in the settlement. While court papers refer to various ailments related to exposure of people to crude oil and other chemicals, Robichaux says there is in no way enough emphasis on long-term effects. Chronic conditions that may still be developing as well as various cancers, in Robichaux’s opinion, are not being taken seriously. Failing to clearly state illnesses that he is convinced show signs of manifesting now, Robichaux maintains, could result in difficulty should people now involved in the settlement press claims of chronic illness later, even though there is some protection against that built into the settlement.
In December, Barbier issued a judgment certifying who qualifies for the class of people suffering economic and property damage due to the disaster and approved a settlement agreement.
Approval of the medical portion was announced late last week.
“Parts of the agreement between the Plaintiff Steering Committee, appointed by Judge Barbier, and BP relied on premises that, in my opinion, had no basis in fact and completely distorted the reality of the long-term consequences of these illnesses,” Robichaux said Monday in an interview.
Last spring, advocates for workers and residents saw the inclusion of potential compensation for future illness as a big plus while the litigation package was being hammered out. Robichaux says he is convinced, however, that the process does not go far enough.
Top among the credentials Robichaux presents as a man of medicine who should be heeded is the fact that he has personally treated people affected by the spill. Robichaux also opines that some of the most important chronic potentials are likely to mirror Gulf War illness.
He notes in his letter to Barbier a statement entered into the court record by Dr. Michael Harbut, a physician with impeccable background but who did not – in the court statement – refer to aspects of the longer-lasting medical problems.
Robichaux was disturbed by this, he said, because he has seen medical literature that shows Harbut and other experts who appear to be ignoring long-term aspects of exposure are well aware of the long-term risks.
“I was fascinated when I realized that he is an exceptional clinician and genuine ‘Good Guy,’ who is a formidable presence in our profession and in his medical specialty,” Robichaux told the judge.
Robichaux has advised Barbier that, in his opinion, the settlement contains flaws that could keep people who contracted chronic illnesses from being adequately compensated and getting the care that they need.
Robichaux’s letter is dated Dec. 7 and has not received a reply from Barbier.
The medical settlement program is limited in most cases to people living with certain physical proximity to the disaster, or who worked directly in its proximity during the cleanup.
Those people may still press claims at a later time if it is discovered that they have developed illnesses related to the spill. But Robichaux says that’s not good enough, that there should be a way to give greater assurance within the settlement.
Local attorneys involved with the litigation confirmed that there are options for people who may have other illnesses at a later time, but also acknowledged that they were not entirely sure of the limitations and that the claims they handle are largely been limited to those now before Barbier.
“It is my most sincere belief that the proposed agreement between BP and the Plaintiff Steering Committee has been severely corrupted and should be rejected,” Robichaux’s letter states.
Asked to explain in detail what he desires, Robichaux said the goal is for Barbier “to reject the medical part of the settlement. The chronic illnesses stated in there are false. This is supposed to be a true document. The attorneys will say it is the best we can get in negotiation.”
Robichaux notes that while people working on the attorney steering committee and representatives from BP got to speak at a recent hearing, the people most affected – those who say they are ill – did not.
“So there is no public record on any of these things, no record that these sick people existed,” the Mathews doctor said, complaining that the potentials for chronic illness have been cast into the land of “what if.”
Robichaux is not the only physician with a strong opinion about the process.
Dr. Kaye Kilburn, a Pasadena medical toxicologist who has seen patients with illnesses related to the spill, not only agrees with Robichaux, but says the geographic area used to determine who is eligible for a medical claim should be made bigger.
Kilburn said enough tests have not been done to ensure that all areas with potential wind-blown effects from burned oil and other chemicals during the cleanup process are identified.
“I have examined some of the people and Dr. Robichaux and I agree that we have a huge health problem that is being actively suppressed, in Raceland and all the way to Grand Isle,” Kilburn said in a telephone interview last week. “I think the problem is far wider, that it extends 200 or 300 miles from the site. What I found was lots of neurological impairments. These people in Louisiana, they are not complainers. They are stoic people. Some had few complaints but they showed with impairment of balance and slowing of reaction time, difficulty discriminating color. They had memory and brain fog, confusion. We have methods for doing objective testing on these things, on these concealed damages. An ordinary doctor would say it’s all in your head … but these doctors are misleading the people. This is the worst type of misjudgment and inhumanity.”
Robichaux and Kilburn have sought help from private donors for enough testing to be done to make a clear and convincing case to attorneys or to the courts.
Although he is receiving no compensation for his efforts, Robichaux said this weekend he plans to keep pressing the issue, even though the chances he will go unheard are great.
“There are a large number of formerly healthy American Citizens who have suffered life-altering illnesses as the result of exposure to chemicals released by a foreign corporation in American waters.” Robichaux said. “To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a penny paid out for the care of these individuals by this corporation and this corporation has been successful, to date, in obscuring the severity and extent of the illnesses being suffered by our fellow countrymen.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hands Across The Sands New Zealand

My friends. I am here in the fight of a lifetime to  "Stop Deep Sea Drilling" in New Zealand.
The groundswell of momentum to stop deep water drilling is almost intoxicating. People, businesses, tribal leaders, and even the children seem to be together in their love and heart felt commitment to protect New Zealand from the horrors we went through in the Gulf. As we all know the only way to keep the disaster from these shores is to stop the drilling in deep water before it begins.

There has been a series of meetings with locals and Hui assemblies where I have presented my photos and videos from our BP mess.
Kaikoura Public presentation
The people were more than willing to come out publicly to say no deep sea drilling. Even the town councilman who was in attendance said the town had begun drafting a resolution to say no. Many businesses such as Strawberry Tree (a local pub) have been very outspoken in the movement to stop this madness.
Abbey tags a wall in the Strawberry Tree
Whale Watch is one of the most influential businesses in the district and has come out strongly against. It's a good thing because we, in the US, know what a single disaster like our Gulf can do to all marine life. Imagine no one being able to see these majestic creatures again!
A Sperm Whale off the coast of Kaikoura
Of all the wonderful sights and people of this trip, the children of the Kaikoura Suburban School have absolutely the most inspiring event yet.

I was asked to speak to a group of grade school students about my experiences in the Gulf of Mexico. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about it. I am used to speaking to adults about what corrupt and dangerous neighbors BP was to us and their "silent partner" Anadarko. I had never been asked to talk to children about it.

I was ushered into a classroom full of children who welcomed me with songs and a very impressive display of their resolve to help protect their Moana (Ocean)

After the talk I asked if they had any questions they wanted to ask. I was very impressed with what they asked.
Kids are the true hope for the future.
They are practicing for Hands Across The Sands Kaikoura
 SO here is the ask of my friends in America. We have a great momentum here and I actually believe we can stop deep water drilling off the coast of Aotearoa (New Zealand) but need to let the people here know that they are not alone in the fight. When Hands Across The Sands America happens on the 18th, I want as many people in America as possibly to make and display some signs to say "We support no deep sea drilling in New Zealand" or words to that effect. Take video, and or photos of the event and send them to me on Facebook (John Wathen) or email at

I will then spread them all over the islands here to show our support for this monumental movement. Good on ya for doing this. Together we can shove these drill crazy son's of BP back home to Texas with their tail tucked!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Protests mount on use of BP Gulf spill funds

May 6, 2013 6:50 pm

Protests mount on use of BP Gulf spill funds

A plan to build a convention centre in Alabama using money given by BP to restore the coast of the Gulf of Mexico has angered environmentalists, raising concerns over how funds to improve the environment are spent.
The plan is part of projects worth $594m announced last week by BP and the five coastal states affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, funded out of the $1bn that the company promised in 2011 for early restoration of the Gulf.

Groups including the National Wildlife Federation have protested that building the convention centre in Gulf State Park in Alabama, justified as a way to improve public access to the natural resources of the coast, will do nothing to repair the damage done by the spill.
The controversy is a foretaste of even fiercer disagreements that are likely over the much larger sums expected to flow into the region in damages and penalties following the trial over the disaster at the federal court in New Orleans.
The convention centre is planned as part of a refurbishment of the park using $85.5m of BP’s money: the bulk of the $94m spending announced in Alabama last week. It will replace a lodge that was wrecked by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
Robert Bentley, Alabama’s governor, said the centre, which will be built and run by a public-private partnership, would create jobs and generate more tourism in the state.
David White of the NWF said his organisation was “shocked” by the decision.
“The American public expects to see BP’s oil spill money spent on projects that will restore the health of the Gulf coast, not on pork-barrel projects like a convention centre,” he said.
Another group, Alabama Coast United, said the governor had “decided to cause more damage by disturbing land that has been reclaimed by nature”, rather than spending money to remove oil that settled on the seabed along the coast.
Several of the new projects announced by BP are not directly related to damage done by the spill.
Texas, for example, is spending more than $10.7m to restore Galveston Island State Park to its condition before Hurricane Ike in 2008.
In Florida, $10.8m is being spent to remove asphalt from beaches, and $4m on two passenger ferries.
BP said that although some of the places where its money was being spent had not been directly affected by the spill, the projects would “address loss of use by providing residents and visitors with new recreational options, better access to existing natural resources and a greater opportunity to enjoy them”.
Projects have to be approved by BP and the natural resource trustees, which are representatives of several US federal government departments and agencies, and the coastal states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eye witness shares stories of oil spill Photojournalist in Kaikoura

What a long strange trip it's been!

I will be making my public debut here in NZ on Wed. It is an honor to be representing My friends and family in the Gulf and my brothers and sisters of the Waterkeeper Alliance

A local radio station here interviewed me today and I told them the truth. We had thousands of people, hundreds of ships, boats and even Corexit and we failed miserably at keeping it off of our shores and our people got sick then and still today are sick from that failure!

This was in the local paper here in Wellington today.

Eye witness shares stories of oil spill Photojournalist in Kaikoura

Last updated 13:41 01/05/2013


John Wathen
Kaikoura bound: Environmentalist, John Wathen is holding a presentation of Wednesday next week about the Gulf oil disaster



An American photojournalist will share his eye-witness account of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster at a free seminar in Kaikoura on Wednesday next week.
The community is invited to John Wathen's presentation, which will include a short film and discussion.
The evening is hosted by No Drill Kaikoura and Greenpeace, and will include an update on deep sea oil drilling proposals in New Zealand.
Mr Wathen is an environmental photojournalist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He chartered a plane to fly over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, capturing images of the spill as it developed.
Since 2010, Mr Wathen has continued to document the after-effects and the impacts on coastal communities.
Mr Wathen is a member of the International Waterkeepers Organisation that campaigns for the protection of waterways, and was the recipient of the Waterkeeper's River Hero of the Year Award in 2012.

For more information contact: Ralph Hogan 03 319 6637.
The seminar is at 7pm in the Memorial Hall supper room.