Vacuum Barge Fiasco Proves Fed Gov’t Sucks

Throughout the saga of the Gulf Oil Spill, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has pushed to include new and creative approaches to fighting the incursion of oil on the state’s coast.

The latest example of the federal government stymieing those approaches came this week when a fleet of barges equipped with siphons and vacuum trucks was shut down – pending inspections for life vests and fire extinguishers.

“We were told Wednesday morning that the Coast Guard was shutting down our vacuum barge operations so they could inspect and certify all the vessels we are using in our fight against this oil spill,” an exasperated Jindal said yesterday. “We asked them to do these inspections quickly and if they could do them without shutting down ongoing operations that are cleaning up the oil that is killing our marsh. Before the shut down yesterday, oil suction operations using military and civilian vacuum barges had suctioned thousands of gallons of oil out of the marsh already and thousands more could have been removed yesterday if these operations wouldn’t have been shut down.

“We currently have operational vacuum barges – either military or civilian – in Bay Jimmy, Red Fish Bay, Pass A Loutre, Blind Bay, Four Bay Pass, Barataria Bay and two in Cat Island. All these barges had to stop their operations yesterday under the Coast Guard’s orders. Another eight vacuum barges were staged in Empire and awaiting deployment. Those eight were also awaiting Coast Guard inspection as of this morning until they were told the barges no longer needed to be inspected.”

He continues the story…

“On our way to Buras this morning, we received word from the Coast Guard that they no longer needed to do inspections and that vacuum barge operations could continue. The frustration here is that we spent weeks talking to the Coast Guard about this new, common sense idea for cleaning out the marsh. At first, we were only allowed to produce a prototype – and once that was seen to be successful, as we knew it would be, we asked for many more of these suction barges to be deployed to coastal communities across the state. Then, after about a week of use, they were shut down because the Coast Guard wanted to inspect them. Now, they have been told they don’t need these inspections.

“It is frustrating because it doesn’t seem like the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. There is no streamlined system here. This is why we keep stressing that we need to see more of a sense of urgency from the Coast Guard, federal officials and BP. We are in a war here – we are in a war against this oil that absolutely threatens our way of life.

“When we asked the Coast Guard to do their checks quickly yesterday they said they were facing some delays because they couldn’t get in touch with a contractor. They then asked the National Guard for contact information and the National Guard agreed to send it to them but said that the contractor was under the Coast Guard and BP. The Coast Guard official who asked apparently did not know how to even get a phone number for the BP contractor. That type of disorganization is delaying our efforts in fighting this war.”

The vacuum barge program, just like BP’s skimming operations further out into the Gulf, is already the victim of ridiculous EPA regulations governing water discharge. It seems that beyond a certain tiny concentration, water containing oil cannot be discharged into the environment. This can present something of a problem, as the most efficient way to siphon or skim oil off the water is to suck up vast quantities of the stuff into a tank, use a centrifugal pump or other such device to separate the oil from the water and then discharge the water while keeping the oil. That’s not a perfect process, but the water discharged through it will have far less oil than the intake.

Apparently this was an issue for the Dutch skimmers the White House originally rejected, and it’s the reason why every day BP claims to have gathered so many millions of gallons of an “oily water mix” without much explanation of how much of the mix is oil and how much is water.

You can see how happy Jindal is about all this…



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