ficials were not only unable to cap the well,
they were also unable to contain the northward
flow of the spill.
Captain Charles Corbett, Chief of the Marine
Environmental Protection Division, U.S. Coast
Guard, Co-Chair, National Response Team: On
several occasions during this whole period of
time, the National Response Team has gone on
record through the Department of State to
Mexico that we would be happy to provide any
assistance that we could. For a good while,
Mexico used what they considered to be the
best in industry versus the best government approach. So we were not requested to participate
in Mexico until fairly well on in the spill. As a
matter of fact, it was the 18th of July that we
received a message that the government of Mexico might be willing to accept some assistance
in the pollution aspects of the spill.
Wright: Captain Charles Corbett of the U.S.
Coast Guard and Ken Biglane of the Environmental Protection Agency are co-chairmen of
the National Response Team. The national
team is a policy-making body that responds to
spills of oil and other hazardous materials.
Captain Corbett: When we decided that the oil,
in fact, was going to reach the Texas coast, the
predesignated on-scene coordinator began to
gear up for just such an occurrence. We identified equipment throughout the country, people
we might use in response to the spill, transportation corridors we might use to get the equipment there, and so forth.
Wright: In this case, the predesignated on-scene
coordinator was Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Jim Paskewich.
Jim Paskewich: The primary area that the scientific assessment team determined that had to
be protected at all cost was essentially Laguna
Madre. In other words, everything behind the
barrier islands was very, very sensitive from an
ecological viewpoint. That had to do with the
estuaries, which were the spawning grounds for
shrimp, which is a major industry here in the
state of Texas. Many, many juvenile species are
bred in the Laguna Madre. There also are some
very sensitive plant life there, and all indications show that that was the area that had to be
protected most, and our response strategy then
was to examine how we could best accomplish
that. And what we found was this kind of
beach in the Texas area is very hard-packed;
and if oil did come ashore, the ecological damage in comparison with it landing on the beach
was drastically less than if it showed up in these
back waters in Laguna Madre. Therefore, we
decided that the best way to do it was to protect all the inlets. In other words, if we mobilize men, material and equipment to stop the
oil from going through the inlets that allow the
oil to hit the beach, and clean it up when it was
on the beach as necessary, that that would essentially be the most productive from an environmental viewpoint, and also a financial viewpoint.
Wright: The Coast Guard's strategy proved successful as far as the valuable spawning grounds
are concerned. What little oil did seep past the
barrier islands was cleaned up immediately.
Other forms of wildlife in the area were only
Robert Whistler: Initially, the things we did
notice was the fact that the birdlife seemed to
disappear, and this was pronounced in those
birds that feed primarily along the shore zone
-the willets, for example. We didn't have any
idea what happened to them. We were worried
that perhaps they might have ingested oil products. . . . They just disappeared. They were
forced to [other] areas for feeding, [for] a
source of food. So the impact on this sort of
thing we noticed.
The impact on the invertebrates [was more]
subtle. . . There was some impact on some of
the birds that feed out on the open gulf, and
because they feed out there, they were more
prone to be affected by the oil. Some of the
blue-faced boobies, and some of these other
kinds of birds [that] washed in were covered
with oil. And these were primarily the only
ones that we had a problem with.
Wright: Bob Whistler is the chief naturalist at
the Padre Island National Seashore. His office is
Employees of the Coast Guard shovel mounds of crude oil from the Campeche oil spill.
responsible for protecting and maintaining the
beaches and wildlife of the Padre Island National Park.
Bob Whistler: I would say that there's perhaps
half a dozen birds or so, and there was a Fish
and Wildlife team and center established to take
care of oiled birds, so there was provision made
for this sort of thing. So we didn't have the impact that we were really concerned with in this
Wright: But while the spawning grounds and
wildlife were being protected, the Padre Island
beaches took a beating. On August 6th, large
concentrations of tar balls began drifting ashore.
On August 15th, oil slicks of varying size and
density landed on the beaches.
Jim Paskewich: The problem here is that you
have hundreds of miles of coast that you have
to look at and protect and deploy equipment
and you have to try to clean up. So the magnitude of the problem is much, much more than
just having an isolated area where, once the
event has happened, you go in, you clean it up,
you boom it off, or use some other kind of devices to isolate it. But here it is completely different. You have an impact, you go and clean it
up. And maybe, two days later, the same area
that you just cleaned is reimpacted. And those
are the type of things that you have to face. So,
for a while there, it looked like a never-ending
Wright: The beaches of South Padre Island are
prime tourist attractions. During a normal
summer season, people from all over the world
come to South Padre to bask in the sun and
drift in the warm Gulf waters. The tourist trade
usually accounts for 50 million dollars
in revenue. But this summer was different.
Heavy concentrations of oil were present on
South Padre beaches for only about two weeks
in mid-August. Even so, negative publicity in
the press caused business to drop off severely
long before the first slick washed ashore.
Paul Cunningham, South Padre Island City Attorney: Tourism has been affected by virtue of
the publicity of the oil spill because it's human
nature. You don't want to take a vacation somewhere where it might not be as enjoyable as
you thought it would be; or it might be spoiled
by virtue of the beaches not being usable. I
wouldn't want to go someplace and spend a
hundred, a hundred and fifty dollars a day for
my vacation with my family with the thought
that we couldn't enjoy the facilities. And mostly it has been fear that has affected the tourism
down here, not the oil spill itself.
Ralph Thompson, South Padre Island Tourist
Bureau: Business fell off as much as 70% of
what it would have been. So I say we've lost...
several millions of dollars ... as a direct result
of the spill and the publicity.
Skipper Ray, Charter Boat Captain: I was running 45 trips a month and I expected to run at
least 30 in the month of September and 40 in
the month of August; ... I think I did 15 trips
in August and something like five or six in September. Fishing was good but there wasn't nobody to take.
Jimmy Halliburton, Store Owner: We've cut our
hours and employees back, we're just more or
less on a skeleton crew, just enough to man the
place. We're spending all of our personal money
trying to keep it going, because I was determined not to close. But if they don't do something quick, well, then, we're going to have to,
because I can't.. .Well, you just finally run out
Wright: The only type of financial help that has
been offered so far is low-interest small business
administration loans. South Padre residents are
quick to point out, however, that in most cases,
these loans are not enough.
Paul Cunningham: Interest, all it is is just a
cheaper interest rate. Compared to commercial
lending, it could be a four or five thousand dollar saving-all of it would be in one year-and a
loan is like anything else: you've got to pay it
back, so I'm not really out to borrow more
money to pay back next year.
Jimmy Halliburton: They told us that if there
was any lag in it, they would have people directly from Washington down here to help us, to
expedite this, and they haven't done it. They've
sent letters out; they're treating it more like a
small business loan, not an economic disaster
Wright: The lack of immediate help and attention from Washington has left many people on
South Padre feeling like the federal government
has forgotten them. Some think that the recent
U.S.-Mexican sales negotiations are the reason
for Washington's lack of support.
Kirby Lilljedahl, City Manager, South Padre Island: Trying to communicate with Washington
is virtually impossible, in the short term. We
don't know what was going on with respect to
our State Department and their State Department involving the oil and gas negotiations, as it
may have affected the oil spill. We're just not
privileged to that, so I just don't know. We
probably feel that our problem was certainly
not number one on the State Department's priority.
Jimmy Halliburton: I think that the federal
government is more interested in Mexico and
their dealings with them than they are in us, because the only contact that we've had with the
federal government in a way is the small business administration and Senator Tower's office.
Wright: Officials in Washington, however, feel
like the federal government has done a lot to
alleviate the problems caused by the spill.
Robert Krueger is Ambassador-at-large-desig-
nate for Mexican affairs. He has participated in
the sales negotiations for several months. He
states that no type of trade-off was arranged.
Robert Krueger: Since July, I have participated
in all the discussions in oil and natural gas that
were going on between our governments. The
question of the oil spill never at any time arose
in any of those discussions. There was no sort
of quid pro cmjo trade-off. We simply negotiated
with them in a commercial transaction, with
the outlines of a natural gas agreement. What
has been done on the federal level in the first
instance is the federal government has spent
something like $75,000 a day from the revolving fund, in order to help cover clean-up costs. I
think that is a significant amount. It is not an
amount that would cover all damages that
might be brought, but there is probably no way
of assessing that in advance. In other cases,
there is legislation that may be brought before
the congress to specifically address this concern
and damages that individuals may have suffered
because of this. We are dealing right now with
the Justice Department and the legal section of
the State Department to see what the [legal]
options are for the U.S. government. There is a
deficiency, or lack, of any very extensive international existing body of law for questions of
Wright: This is not the first time that the United States has been involved with Mexico in a
controversy of this kind. In the early 1960's, a
serious problem arose concerning the quality of
water flowing from the Colorado River into
northern Mexican farmlands. This situation is
the basis for Mexico's refusal to compensate
Americans affected by the spill.
T. R. Martin: The problem began in 1961 when,
by an unpredicted confluence of circumstances,
the salinity of the water we were delivering to
Mexico more than doubled. We were surprised
but Mexico, of course, was on the burdened
end, and complained at once.
Wright: T. R. Martin is a special assistant in the
State Department's Mexican Affairs office. He
is also acknowledged as the department's foremost expert on the Mexican-American salinity
T. R. Martin: It was our belief that agricultural
drainage was not a contaminant under international law, that many agricultural areas were
drained into the Colorado River up and down
the river. And secondly, because of the provision of the treaty that Colorado River water