May 2, 2013

Colby students mark anniversary of BP oil spill

Demonstration seeks to bring awareness to dangers of off-shore drilling, seismic testing

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- A group of Colby College students staged a demonstration Thursday marking the third anniversary of the BP oil spill.

click image to enlarge

Student members of Colby Alliance of Renewable Energy group took part in a simulated oil spill that contaminated birds and animals on campus on Thursday. From left, Ruthie Hawley, Carla Nyquist, Jacob Wall and Janice Liang.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Colby College student Ruthie Hawley, a member of the Colby Alliance of Renewable Energy group, takes part in a simulated oil spill Thursday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

A dozen members of the Colby Alliance for Renewable Energy participated, five of them wearing hazmat suits while conducting a simulated cleanup of a mock oil spill on the Averill Lawn on campus. The students "rescued" toy pelicans and sea turtles from a black tarp that represented the spill and stretched into a blue tarp representing the ocean.

The students who donned the hazmat gear said they were wearing the suits to demonstrate that oil spills are hazardous and can poison the ocean.

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. BP eventually pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to the explosion and was fined more than $4 billion.

The students said the goal of the demonstration was to increase awareness of problems associated with offshore drilling and to encourage people to sign a petition asking President Barack Obama's administration to stop the oil industry's use of seismic testing with airguns while looking for oil and gas off the East Coast. The testing could injure and possibly kill an estimated 138,500 whales and dolphins, according to the international conservation group Oceana.

Seismic airgun testing is the first step toward offshore drilling and involves shooting blasts of compressed air into the water to get seismic information about possible oil buried under the ocean floor. According to Oceana's website, the sound blasts kill fish eggs, disrupt whales and dolphins, which use sound to find food, and can lead to whales intentionally beaching themselves.

Colby student Bailey McMillan, 18, said the Colby Alliance was contacted by Oceana to be one of a number of student groups to conduct demonstrations. Oceana provided the materials for the skit, she said.

McMillan said the students are also trying to promote support for offshore wind energy as an alternative to offshore drilling.

Although land-based wind energy has been a contentious topic in Maine, Casey Coulter, 18, said he believes offshore projects could find support.

Members of the group carried signs saying, "Windmills, not oil spills" and "Wind blows oil away."

McMillan said the group, made up mostly of freshmen who have a smaller class load and can dedicate more time to the cause, had collected 80 signatures pledging to sign the seismic airgun testing petition at Whitehouse.gov. Coulter said Oceana's goal is to get 100,000 signatures nationwide, which is the number needed to require a formal response from the federal government.

Kaitlin Schroeder -- 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com

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