Written by Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger, minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, on May 5, 2010.  Cross-posted at http://nolarev.blogspot.com.

The explosion on the high-tech oil rig leased by BP nearly 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico happened April 20th. Immediate word was that there had been casualties, but some workers had been able to evacuate in time and were saved. Local news showed footage of the fire in the Gulf, and anxious relatives being ferried to a hotel near the airport to await their loved ones — or word that their beloveds were among the lost. More reports later focused on the funerals of the men (they were all men — for whatever reason, oil rigs are not known to be havens of gender-inclusivity).

Announcements were made on April 21st or 22nd (hard to remember now) that the oil well was being capped as it blew, so (the announcement, presumably from BP, said) there would be minimal leakage of oil into the waters of the Gulf. As I packed for my New York trip on April 23rd, the news seemed to be changing. There WAS a spill, but it wasn’t too bad. When I arrived in New York on the night of April 24th, the media was in full retreat from earlier stories. There WAS a spill, and it WAS bad, it was very bad indeed. It might even be the worst ever.

Storms in the Gulf not only dropped rain on Jazz Fest revelers, it sent the oil slick moving rapidly toward the ravaged Louisiana coast. By the second Jazz Fest weekend, April 29-May 2, some folks in Irish Bayou and even Slidell, claimed they could smell it on the wind. (It may or may not have been the reason that the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin gave to Jazz Fest officials about canceling her set, even though her tour bus was already in New Orleans, and nobody was claiming to be able to smell it from there.)

Folks at Jazz Fest lined up in record numbers to get raw oysters, joking sardonically that it could our last raw oysters for 5-10 years. (If the seedbeds of Louisiana oysters are disturbed, new seed oysters will have to be obtained after the beds are cleaned and then carefully nurtured. it would take between 5 and 10 years to be able to harvest from such new beds.) While they made remarks steeped in disaster-humor, their eyes were alternately angry and sad. Hearing that Halliburton contractors had been involved on the rig, one man said, “Let Cheney pay for the clean-up.” The lead singer for Pearl Jam, on stage at the Fest, suggested that the children of BP executives spend their summer breaks working on the clean-up. He was wildly cheered.

Whether you live here in poor belle NOLA or anywhere else around the country, I know that all of us have been deeply affected emotionally and spiritually from this disaster, and the slow pace and inadequate scope of clean up. I know that all of us, young and old, well-off and struggling, want to do something, but we don’t know what. We know something of what this disaster means in terms of our lives and livelihoods and delicious food and our beautiful marshlands and fragile coastal areas, and the strange and wonderful wild things that live in those places, but there is still a mystery in terms of what happens next, what might happen next.

Here are some concrete ideas for things that can be done, right now, right away, to have a positive effect on the spill clean-up. And if there are those of you who read this who know of other things we can do, please do let me know so I can help spread the word.

#1 It is well-known that the containment booms for oil spills are filled with waste materials like hair, fur, and old nylons. (Check-out the YouTube video clip entitled “Hair Soaks Up Oil Spills“.) Collections of hair clippings from barbers and salons and fur clippings from pet groomers would be of tremendous assistance. A local hotel is working with a local environmental organization, Matter of Trust, to coordinate donations of old hosiery, pantyhose, stockings, clipped hair, and fur from pet groomers; that is the Ritz Carlton Hotel, 921 Canal St., NOLA 70130, 504-670-2817. Packages must be clearly labeled, such as “PANTYHOSE” or “HAIR CLIPPINGS”. If you live in New Orleans, you can drop off labeled packages of your old stockings right at the valet entrance of the hotel. You can also call your hair salon and dog groomer and request that they save all hair and fur for this important cause.

#2 If you are financially able, you can contribute to help the people who are hurt most. A fund has been set up by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund, to collect money to benefit local communities (in Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and lower Jefferson parishes) most adversely affected by the disaster, who are mostly poor/economically marginal, Islenos, Vietnamese, or African American). Donations can be made online, and more information gathered, at www.gnof.org.

#3 If you are able and willing to, you can volunteer to help.  In-person volunteers can register with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, or through the Sierra Club. Recovery from this, as from Katrina, will be a marathon, not a sprint. We will need a lot of help for quite some time to come.

#4 If you live or visit near the Louisiana-Mississippi coast, and need to report damaged wild life or shoreline, these are the numbers to call: for oiled wildlife 866-557-1401; for damaged coastal areas 800-440-0858.

#5 Write and call your elected officials at the federal level. Demand clear procedures for emergencies in the Gulf. Demand accountability for when inevitable accidents happen. Demand immediate federal aid for the coast line, the wild life, and the human communities affected by such disasters.

Finally, we can all pray/meditate/send good thoughts when gathered in our faith communities. We can support and comfort each other in our rage and grief over this new disaster. We can use the work of our hands and the power of our minds to make this better and prevent its recurrence.

To all of you out there standing in solidarity with us in South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

About the Author
Rowan Van Ness


  1. Tricia Beaird

    It’s been a long time, but I always know where to find you — standing on the side of justice and truth-telling. And ACTION! Thanks for this, Melanie! Tricia, Drew and Eleanor

  2. tiffya

    When will people learn about the dangers. I can’t even bring myself to look at any of the pictures or videos.

  3. H

    Thank you for writing this. I’m surprised there is not more easily searchable on the uua site. Maybe I’m just missing it? Please add more links and updates if you are aware of them.

  4. Tinka Friend

    I just found this. I have a friend who owns a beauty shop and I know would donate cut hair. Before I get everyone get all involved at my church, I want to be sure that hair and old nylons would still be helpful at this stage of the cleanup. Please let me know.


Comments are closed.