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TEDxOilSpill Expedition

This is a week-long project to document the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico and bring a first hand report back to the TEDxOilSpill event in Washington DC on June 28th. We'll be working on land, air, and maybe even on boat. Our team is composed of several talented photographers and videographers. In addition to documentation of oil on the water and on the beach, we're particularly interested in the human side of the equation and will be talking to some of the people most affected by the catastrophe in the Gulf. We'll also be documenting any and all evidence of media interference by BP, the Coast Guard, or other officials.

Would you like to help fund the TEDxOilSpill Expedition? We’ve heard from a number of people that are interested in helping out on an individual basis and we can definitely use your help. We’re committed to making this a success, but with the speed with which we’ve pulled this together and the costs of chartering seaplanes and the like, our team of five people is taking on some fairly substantial expenses. To give you an idea of what our costs are, our seaplane expenses are going to run north of $500/flight hour.

Any support you’d consider giving-$5 to $50 to $500—will be so very welcome and will be directly used to fund and possibly increase the scope of our activities, including chartering aircraft and boats to get us into the thick of things.

Latest updates from the Expedition:

June 21st, 2010

Day 7: Our Last Day in the Gulf, For Now

The last day of our expedition found us waking up at 5:30AM in a La Quinta in Gulf Shores, Alabama. We had returned for a final few hours on the beaches here after witnessing oil on the beach and water the previous day from the air. We didn’t have long—we had to be back at the airport in New Orleans just after lunch—but we wanted to see what things looked like from the ground.

Oiled Beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama

We arrived right at high tide. That meant that the bulk of the oil on the beach that we saw the day before was covered. The sand all along the water line, however, was oil stained. You could look out to sea and see the sheen of oil. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might mistake it for something else. But we’d seen it from the air and knew what we were looking at. It made us cringe to see tourists walking barefoot along the beach and out in the water. It horrified us when we spotted a family with a few children using nets to fish something out of the water. I couldn’t quite spot what was in their nets, but they took whatever it was with them.

A family uses nets to fish things out of the water.

At one point, we talked with one of the safety officers for the clean up crew. He had served in Iraq and as we talked about his service history, he said that he felt he was doing his country more of a service on the beaches in Alabama than he did oversees. He also said that he had seen the test results of the water and while most of the aromatics has evaporated from the oil by the time it reached the Alabama coast, there’s no way he’d go in the water or walk on the beach without foot protection. But, the local hotels and tourism boards were attempting to encourage a business as usual attitude and at least some people were buying it.

Workers on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama

After spending a few hours scouting the beaches, we drove back to New Orleans and all took our separate flights home. We’ve all got thousands of photographs to sort through, stories to write about, and our own personal emotional states to tend to. This hasn’t been an easy week.

We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here on the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve seen the surface scope of this disaster and we’re going to bring our first hand account to TEDxOilSpill next Monday. It’s horrifying and terrible—all the more so since we know that we’re only seeing a fraction of the effects of this disaster. Most of the oil still lurks underwater. Most of the wildlife that’s being affected lives under the surface. It’s a sobering thought we continue to come back to.

Speaking for myself (Duncan), I can say that I want to go back to continue working this story. We’ve done an amazing amount of work in a week, but with that experience, I’m sure that we could do even more. As well, the effects of this disaster are not over. This story will be a long one and as the attention on it inevitably wanders elsewhere, it’ll need more coverage. I hope that the team, either together or individually, can return to document more of the effects here.

Photos credit: James Duncan Davidson

June 20th, 2010

Day 6: Our Second Flight Over the Gulf Coast

Yesterday, we had five people on our team. Today, we’re down to four. Darron had to make it home for the weekend and some much deserved downtime leaving the rest of us one more full day in the Gulf States. We used it to arrange another flight over the Gulf of Mexico with Pinar, Kris, and Duncan.

We debated intensely over our routing. Should we head back out to the source? Should we spend more time over the wetlands of Louisiana? Or, should we follow a tip we’d heard from somebody that had flown over Orange Beach that indicated oil was just offshore? In the end, we decided to fly a triangle route from New Orleans out to the source and then up to Gulf Shores. It was a risk, especially at $570/hour of airtime, but we figured it was a risk worth taking.

With a last check of the weather—which showed storms over the Gulf, but based on the patterns, we figured we could time things to miss them—we set out. As we approached the source, we spotted the fires burning off gas from about 20 miles out and saw oil in the water at about the same distance.

Flying over the source, we saw amazing amounts of heavy oil in the water and spent a few orbits over both the main site as well as a few other boats in the area. The smell of oil and gas over the source is intense. It’s like standing next to a bucket of gasoline sitting next to a leaky propane tank. Flying around it—and knowing that the true source of the oil is a mile underwater—is like flying over the gates of a watery hell.

Flying north from the source to Gulf Shores, we saw oil ranging from sheen to much heavier all the way to the coast and as far as the eye can see in both directions. It’s over a hundred miles from the spill site to the coast of Alabama. There’s no good way to describe how huge an area is impacted.

A ship in the oil. (Photo: Kris Krüg)

When we arrived at Gulf Shores, we saw the oil coming up on the beach. Beaches that had been relatively clean a few days ago, when we were last there, now were stained with oil. Skimmers were operating right off the shore.

Oil in the water and on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama (Photo: Pinar Özger)

Amazingly enough, a few miles down shore where oil wasn’t yet on the beach, but within hundreds of yards, we spotted swimmers in the water. We were flabbergasted. If they could see what we saw, there’d be no way they would be in that water.

Once we returned to New Orleans, we huddled for a bit and decided to return by land to Gulf Shores so that we can document the oil coming on shore from the beachside. That will be tomorrow morning’s task.

June 19th, 2010

Photo Essay: TEDxOilSpill Expedition Team Takes to the Skies, Documents Damage to Southern Louisiana Marshlands

Burning Off The Surface Oil From BP's Deepwater OilSpill

The last few days have been a non-stop journey through the coastal area of New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana Marshlands for the TEDxOilSpill Expedition team. The team of photographers, videographer and writer have been exploring the land and the sky in order to understand the story of the oil crisis here in the Gulf. A couple thousand photos and multiple blog posts later, the team is gathering media coverage from a witnessing POV for the June 28th TEDxOilSpill event in Washington, DC.


In the first couple of days of the expedition, the team divided their time through Mississippi and Alabama, following the expanding oil spill coverage and documenting the communities of the Gulf Coast states that have been affected. The last few days have had a heavy focus on Louisiana, especially with the team paying close attention to the southern marshlands. Unlike the rest of the Gulf Coast beaches, these marshlands have been hit fast and hard from the unending oil spill, with devastation to the natural wildlife being particularly horrific.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 18th, 2010

TEDxOilSpill Expedition Funding Update

When we first conceived of the idea of doing an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, we knew we had to move fast. So we did. We planned the trip in a week and found ourselves in Louisiana the next. As part of this rapid-fire planning and execution, we set up a PayPal donation link to help fund our expedition. We’ve been humbled by the response and the support has literally been the wind beneath our wings as we flew in a seaplane across the Gulf of Mexico yesterday.

When we announced the PayPal link, we committed to using every scrap of money raise to pay for expenses related to the expedition. We also committed to transparency and reporting what the donations were used for. Here’s a quick update to give you an idea of where we stand.

In the four days since we kicked off the PayPal link, we’ve raised a bit over $5700. In the same period of time, we’ve racked up expenses as a team of $10,010 with probably another $2500 to go, the majority of which will be our second seaplane flight tomorrow.

What You Don'e See ...

Is This Another War Against America?

A Scientific Look News

Never Allow Oilmen In The White House !!

As you can see, your contributions have helped in a major way, and we’re grateful. They show that the community of people rallying around the TEDxOilSpill event and the general public really care about this news and support our commitment to bring more coverage to this ongoing environmental disaster whose effects will be felt for a very long time to come.

As we work in the Gulf, we’re very aware that we’re working for you and are looking to bring you our view of the situation and to share it with the world. We’ve been posting photos and blog posts as we go. We’ll present even more at TEDxOilSpill. And, everyone on the team is committed to putting out additional work based on the photos and stories captured in the Gulf of Mexico this week.

If you’ve donated, thank you so very much. You rock and we’d love to shake your hand, give you a hug, and otherwise show our appreciation.

If you’d like to help us out with the rest of our expenses, please use the PayPal donation link.

Last, if you are somebody at an organization that would like to respond to the general public’s amazing contribution and match it, please get in touch.

Again, everyone on the team here in the Gulf of Mexico—Duncan, Kris, Pinar, Darron, and Danielle—are humbled by your show of support and we thank you.

Photo credits: Kris Krüg, Pinar Özger, and James Duncan Davidson. Click through any photo see it larger on Flickr.

June 18th, 2010

Air Traffic Control Over the Gulf

One of the challenges in flying out to the Deepwater Horizon site is getting clearance to fly into the restricted airspace in the Gulf of Mexico. The temporary flight restriction (TFR) has been used to keep lots of flights out in the past. Luckily, we’re working with an operator that knows how to use their connections to get flights approved into the TFR. Once approved, the flight is issued a “squawk code” that is transmitted by the aircraft to let the people monitoring the restricted area know we are supposed to be there.

Even with all that in place, it sometimes doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. As we flew out to the Deepwater site, our pilot Dicky was in constant contact with a Navy P3 Orion—a mini AWACS aircraft—orbiting high above the gulf keeping track of everyone.

When we departed the Deepwater site and Dickie communicated to the Orion (call sign “Omaha 99″) our intent, the controller came back quite quickly saying, “You’ve created a hell of a ruckus with your flight today. We’ve got flights in and out of this airspace and you’ve been interfering with them.” We got chewed out for several minutes straight. The funny thing is that we hadn’t been given any advisories or instructions by the controllers the entire time we were orbiting the site. Furthermore, there were no other flights that came or left the immediate area while we were there. We’d have photographs of them if there were.

Something tells me that we weren’t quite welcome there and our presence was merely tolerated. But we were there in any case and we weren’t there to make friends.

Photos: James Duncan Davidson

June 18th, 2010

Day 4: Team Heads to Baton Rouge and Oil Spill Source

Our four-geek-one-Pennsylvania-Dutch-cobbler Oil Spill Expedition team has really gelled over the past four days. But today we had to split up to cover more ground and air. KK, Pinar and Duncan took to the wing to fly to “the source” and buzz the islands in Barataria Bay to capture what we all need to be seeing more of. I got a sneak peek in the geek truck on the ride back down to Grand Isle and heard the crazy stories, but will leave it to them to tell it firsthand.

Daniel and I headed west on I-10 to Baton Rouge, LA to sit in on an oil spill rally. Here’s my take on that event.


My rental car – a blood red Ford Escape – cost $12.00 for the day.  I didn’t correct their mistake.  We’d have to rush to make the 11.30 kick-off of the “march on the Louisiana Capitol building,” which would start at the old capitol building and end on the steps of the new one.  But actually we had plenty of time because there was a scheduling error and last-minute change of plans which moved the march until Friday but kept the rally for today.  We didn’t quite understand the strategy but wanted to see how it would evolve.

Louisiana State Bird

It’s strange.  If ever there was a time for this country to take to the streets I would think it would be now.  A few did.  But not many.  I’m not a child of the 60s nor have I spent much time pounding the streets and raising hell in the 90s or in this decade, but this didn’t quite meet my expectations.  Part of it I suppose was the late change of plans.  Part of it was the mid-day heat and the mid-day jobs.  And part of it, brought to my attention by my fellow expedition member Kris Krug, is the fact that motivations have changed.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 17th, 2010

Darron Asher Collins (now known as Dasher) on Australian Radio

Darron Dasher CollinsFrom a parking lot in the French Quarter, New Orleans, LA I was interviewed by an Australian radio show which just went live.

OK, you may catch that I mention bird “noses” about a third of the way through the program.  I was just making sure you were paying attention and like to anthropomorphize, you know, everything including sea birds.

Check it out here:


June 17th, 2010

Flight Track to the Source

Earlier today, we made our first seaplane flight. Our destination: The Source. That’s what the Deepwater Horizon accident site is now known as to many of the locals who work above the Gulf of Mexico. Duncan took his GPS tracker on the flight and recorded our flight path.

The outbound portion of our flight is the leg north of the Mississippi river. You can see several places where we orbited around points of interest. The first orbit was flying around surface burning. The thick donut of orbits at the lower right is the Deepwater Horizon site. Then we headed to Grand Isle and flew around Barataria Bay before returning back to Southern Aviation’s field.

We’re all still digesting what we saw as we pull files off of our memory cards. The general consensus is that as big as you know this disaster is, seeing it first hand is something that can’t be prepared for.

June 17th, 2010

Planning our Aerial Mission

Today will be the first day we take to the air in a seaplane to document the oil spill from above. Setting this part of the expedition up wasn’t easy. When we first started considering this trip, some charter operators were shying away from carrying photographers. Others were happy to take media people, but could not secure clearance to fly. With the help of a few friends, we worked multiple angles and even considered bringing in a seaplane from Florida. These options didn’t work out for one reason or another, but the network of contacts we built lead us eventually to local operator Southern Seaplane.

Based out of Belle Chasse, Southern Seaplane made it a mission earlier this month to break the impasse. They were tired of hearing “Permission denied” when they wanted to fly people ranging from reporters to politicians to survey the damage inflicted by the spill. So they enlisted the help of one of their senators and eventually managed to break through the logjam. It still requires permission to fly into the restricted areas, but they’re now able to get these permissions and the special squawk codes needed to fly into the TFR areas.

Darron and Duncan plan a route with our pilot, Dickie (Credit: Pinar Ozger)

With their help, we’ve planned out a few aerial missions of our own. The first will be out to the Deepwater Horizon site, sometimes referred to locally as “The Source.” We’ll then come back to the south and range through the wetlands to find both pristine and affected areas for a few hours. We’re going to be flying low—quite a bit lower than many previous aerial photography missions have been able to go. This is going to be one interesting flight.

June 17th, 2010

Our Mobile Workplace

To get from one end of the area affected by the oil spill to the other end requires lots of travel. Grand Isle and Venice are both two and a half hours from New Orleans. It’s a bit over three hours to Gulf Shores Alabama. Staying productive during these road trips is essential as we arrange meetings, keep tabs on the news, and stay in touch with the rest of the team organizing TEDxOilSpill. As we go, well, we certainly do look like a band of geeks.

Geeks in a Car (Photo by Pinar Ozger)

To keep connected, we’re using a Sprint EVDO card in Duncan’s laptop and rebroadcasting internet access using Internet Sharing. If you happen to see the SSID “TEDxOilSpill Mobile Command” show up in your airport menu, look around for a black Nissan Xterra. And smile for the cameras.

More TEDxOilSpill Expedition

This is a week-long project to document the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico and bring a first hand report back to the TEDxOilSpill event in Washington DC on June 28th. We'll be working on land, air, and maybe even on boat. Our team is composed of several talented photographers and videographers. In addition to documentation of oil on the water and on the beach, we're particularly interested in the human side of the equation and will be talking to some of the people most affected by the catastrophe in the Gulf. We'll also be documenting any and all evidence of media interference by BP, the Coast Guard, or other officials.

Would you like to help fund the TEDxOilSpill Expedition? We’ve heard from a number of people that are interested in helping out on an individual basis and we can definitely use your help. We’re committed to making this a success, but with the speed with which we’ve pulled this together and the costs of chartering seaplanes and the like, our team of five people is taking on some fairly substantial expenses. To give you an idea of what our costs are, our seaplane expenses are going to run north of $500/flight hour.

Any support you’d consider giving-$5 to $50 to $500—will be so very welcome and will be directly used to fund and possibly increase the scope of our activities, including chartering aircraft and boats to get us into the thick of things.

Latest updates from the Expedition:

June 17th, 2010

Photo Essay: The TEDxOilSpill Expedition Documents Effects of Oil Spill on Communities on The Gulf Coast

Tri-State Fisherfolk Rally in Biloxi, MIssissippi - TEDx Oil Spill  Expedition

The recent Oil Spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has been on everyone’s mind and media outlets for the past month. Between horrifying photos, misleading information and many failed attempts at stopping the gushing oil well, a growing national frustration has mounted into a direct collective responsibility that something has to be done.

Seagulls gather for rest on dock posts in Dauphin Bay, Alabama -  TEDx Oil Spill

A group of environmentally passionate geeks gathered together to organize a TEDxOilSpill that is scheduled to happen in Washington, DC on June 28th. This TED inspired event will bring together the powerful voices that have responded in a call to action over the various facets that amounted to our current oil crisis, including our dependency to fossil fuels, our irresponsibility to our environment and the unregulated parade that is environmental policy.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 17th, 2010

Day 3: Note from the Field by Darron Collins


The plan for the morning was to storm the Port Perdido beach before sunrise and before the waste management crews arrived.  It felt a bit like a military operation until we arrived at the water and stood together silently with a few herons watching the waves gently lap the shore.  The heron’s neck is folded when flying but is a more elongated “s” when not.  Standing, the heron contemplated the waves.  Standing, we five contemplated the cleanliness of the beach.  We saw some evidence of oil yesterday afternoon and expected to find the night’s waves and winds to have deposited near shore oil all over the beach.  It didn’t.  Or did it and we just didn’t see it?

Great Blue Heron

Several miles down the beach we saw hundreds of workers poised to attack the sands with rakes and shovels.  We saw tire tracks on the sand from the night crews that worked the beaches.  We saw the Coast Guard helicopters buzzing the shores.  We saw no oil.

Tracks in the Sand, Orange Beach, Alabama

Read the rest of this entry »

June 17th, 2010

Hope Sings on the Street

Wednesday evening found us in the French Quarter regrouping after a tough few days. While we were enjoying our beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde, we listened to Cleome, a singer who had set up shop in front of the patio and was performing for the tourists. For  a few moments, we put aside discussions of work and allowed ourselves to be just tourists as well.

Cleome singing in the French Quarter (Credit: James Duncan Davidson)

As she sang, we caught this line: “We’ll rise… We’ll rise… Yes, we’ll rise over this oil spill”

Cleome singing in the French Quarter (Credit: Pinar Ozger)

New Orleans has survived more than its fair share of adversity over the years. Loss of the wetlands. Hurricanes. And now the oil spill which may end up overshadowing all the other catastrophes. But as always, there’s a group of people here that are determined to survive.

June 17th, 2010

Memory from the Car by Darron Collins

I can hardly call this a report from the “field” as I thought of writing it up comfortably cornered in the backseat of a Nissan Xterra.  And it’s a memory of yesterday rather than a report from today.  Anyway…meet Captain Dana Naquin.  We met him and his crew under the decks at the Dauphin Island Ferry.  He’s a welder and, born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, is as Cajun as they come.  He’s worked the spill for five weeks now and has just about had enough of his temporary life here in lower Alabama.

Dana Naquin, Boat Captain (Photo by Pinar Ozger)

Right below his ANIMAL tat you might be able to make out a lanyard with a handful of cards.  Each is a license of sorts allowing him to do this or that in relation to the spill.  Each is awarded after a certain number of hours of training.  Each represents a marker of rank and a step toward better wages.  Captain Naquin is in this respect something of a four-star general.

“This one,” he tells me, “is from ‘courtesy training.’ It shows that I can keep control over my crew and tells you I know not to swear at people in public. F%$*ing stupid peace of s%#@t.”

June 16th, 2010

Darron Interviewed on New Orleans TV

TEDxOilSpill Expedition team member Darron Collins, a managing director at the World Wildlife Fund, was interviewed today in New Orleans by WWL TV. The interview is focused on the survival chances of oil spill-treated birds, a sensitive topic.

Of particular concern to Darron are the brown pelicans that were just recently removed from the endangered species list. Even though they aren’t on the list anymore, their low numbers suggests that expending the effort to clean and save them is worth it, even if there’s a chance that they won’t survive the treatment.

Darron gave this interview during a meeting that the rest of the expedition team members were having with the Gulf Restoration Network where we learned about the efforts that this group is making. In this meeting, we talked with Casey DeMoss Roberts, Assistant Director of Water Resources, who will be traveling from New Orleans to speak at TEDxOilSpill.

June 16th, 2010

Some of the Challenges We Face

Duncan Davidson reporting from the field: I didn’t expect that this expedition would be easy. In fact, from the moment we started talking about it, I knew it would be challenging in a multitude of ways. This story is a complicated one and affects a large area across several states and a marine ecosystem that we don’t fully understand. To make things more complicated, due to the depth at which the oil is released, the dispersants used, and the currents in the Gulf, there’s no single place to just go to find out what’s going on. The situation changes day to day.

Stained sand beneath the US182 bridge at Port Perdida, Alabama. (Credit: Pinar Ozger)

For example, yesterday we scouted through Mississippi and ended up in Alabama based on reports and photographs of oil on multiple beaches. We did find oil in the water, but we didn’t find massive slicks rolling up on shore. The big slick off of Orange Beach is reported to be 8 or 10 miles off shore. Every so often, the currents will pull a part of the slick off and send it ashore. Fortunately, there are thousands of workers on the beaches ready for it and they’re doing a good job of cleaning the visible oil and tar up. We’ve walked several beaches that are being heavily worked by crews that only have small tar balls and stained sand on them.

Oil in the surf at Perdido Beach in Alabama (Credit: Duncan Davidson)

Read the rest of this entry »

June 16th, 2010

Day 2: The heat fells beach cleaners, as oil permeates the surf but not sand

The TEDxOilSpill Expedition team started the day in the Gretna, LA IHOP and ate with the sense that we’d probably not be eating for a long time. Although the IHOP wait staff didn’t recognize it, we were also in a hurry and the urgency came from the need to boogie west out to Biloxi, Mississippi and attend a rally for Vietnamese shrimpers.

Tri-State Fisherfolk Rally in Biloxi, MIssissippi - TEDx Oil Spill  Expedition

Not many Americans realize that the Greater New Orleans area, stretching from New Orleans to Biloxi, is home to the second largest concentration of Vietnamese in this country, behind the Bay Area. I remember as a graduate student at Tulane working among a huge community of Catholic Vietnamese immigrants in New Orleans east. They farmed the levees and held an enormous vegetable market on Sundays following 6AM mass. Women in conical bamboo hats squatted curbside and worked big plugs of betel nut between cheek and gum spitting a gooey red slime that stained their teeth and toes. The bargaining for cheap eggplant was only in Vietnamese, and was in that loud staccato that bounced through the narrow walls of the market.

Unused fishing boats in Biloxi, Mississippi - TEDx Oil Spill  ExpeditionDifferent place, same feel at the rally. About 50% of these coastal Vietnamese families are shrimpers first and foremost and, like all the other shrimpers in the Gulf, this spill has completely and violently yanked their rugs from beneath them. Today in Biloxi, Mississippi they were demanding four things from their Mississippian Congressmen: language access, health care for oil spill workers, jobs and debt relief.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 15th, 2010

Day 1: BP buys up all the boats, and we reconnect with Joseph the ex-shrimper

It’s been ten days since my last trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana and over that span of time the anger on the Island has been fermenting. The most visible signs of this anger are the homemade posters and signs telling drivers-by that BP has destroyed their way of life.

Some were straight forward: “BP Destroyed the Lives of Three Generations of Fishermen that Once Lived Happily in this House.” Others were more creative: “Sponge Bob is Missing Patrick. BP Killed Patrick.” And still others were much more practical: “We Do Catering for Spill Cleanup Crews and Wildlife Rescue Teams.

Duncan Davidson, a photographer on the TEDxOilSpill Expedition, and I decided to quickly scope out Grand Isle and take advantage of the last hours of sunlight before joining the other members of the team back at the New Orleans airport and launching full force into this week-long expedition.

We pulled up to what looked like a reasonable place to access the closed beach in Grand Isle. I opened the car door and was met by a wall of wet heat permeated with the stench of oil. The cleanup crews had gone home for the day but their tents, tools and booms littered the entire seven-mile stretch of beach. An official looking vehicle approached but paid us no mind. Unlike ten days ago when President Obama had to hunt for a few specks of oil on this beach, today oil globules covered the entire high-tide line.

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June 14th, 2010

Why we are in the Gulf

This is a week-long project to document the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico and bring a first hand report back to the TEDxOilSpill event in Washington DC on June 28th. We’ll be working on land, air, and maybe even on boat. Our team is composed of several talented photographers and videographers. In addition to documentation of oil on the water and on the beach, we’re particularly interested in the human side of the equation and will be talking to some of the people most affected by the catastrophe in the Gulf. We’ll also be documenting any and all evidence of media interference by BP, the Coast Guard, or other officials.

During the week, we’ll be posting public dispatches from the field through a variety of outlets and are looking to get coverage at all levels from our own personal blogs all the way up to major media outlets. We’ll be working with writers both in the field and remotely to help communicate our story.

The capstone of the project will be a presentation delivered at the TEDxOilSpill event. This will set the stage with a first-hand report to the participants of the event, whether they are in the room or part of the live stream. We’ll also prepare prints for display at the event so that participants have easy access to the context of the current crisis.

After the event, the team of photographers and videographers will create further media deliverables based on their individual availability of time and resources. Tentative plans include documentary videos, slideshows, and possibly a print-on-demand photo book. Each team member will spearhead their own use of their assets, but we’ll be heavily cooperating to help each other’s projects out.

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June 13th, 2010

TEDxOilSpill Expedition Gets Under Way

We’re a country with a very serious case of attention deficit disorder. Michael Jackson’s dead and most people don’t much care anymore. Oil’s been shooting from the bowls of the Gulf at a rate of 5,000…12,000…19,000…50,000(?) barrels a day for 54 days.

We can’t afford to forget about this. My fear is that many have already forgotten or no longer care.

The TEDxOilSpill Expedition will spend the next week pushing the envelope, traveling our Gulf coast and gathering the images, videos, thoughts and ideas that will be the Ritalin and behavioral therapy for our national ADD.

Duncan, Kris, Pinar and I will be using whatever means necessary to give you a firsthand account of the spill and tell stories about how this spill has torn apart the cultural and ecological fabric of one of the most amazing (and biologically productive and culturally diverse and beautiful and powerfully strange) places on our planet. We’ll do it as best we can in real time.

But this oil in the Gulf is more than an incident. It’s a really hard slap in the face that’s got to wake us all up from a century of dependency on oil. We cannot afford to wait for one person, whether that be a scientist, a business leader or the President himself to lead the charge away from oil. It will take an army of scientists, business leaders, the President and folks from all walks of life. TED is the perfect catalyst to move such an army.

As such, the TEDxOilSpill Expedition will also be gathering and assembling the nuts and bolts of a presentation to kick off the TEDxOilSpill event to be held on June 28th, 2010 in Washington, DC. The images and videos and stories we gather will help us all in attendance to get our arms around the Deepwater Horizon disaster and help focus our attention on mitigating the existing damage and helping find ways to make sure none of us has to relive this.

I’ve been in touch with the others tonight, scattered as they are across the country. Lots of logistical hurdles to jump. There’ll be no sleep with our minds racing like this. Tomorrow we’ll meet in New Orleans International Airport, brave the 95% humidity and head down to Grand Isle, Louisiana, one of several epicenters in this disaster. We’ll make our way east by plane, flat bottom boat, pirogue, car and legs and, yes, we’ll burn oil in the process. Everyone’s got to shoulder a bit of the blame for this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. More to come…


TEDx EVENTS                                                                            

BP Spill Ushers in Natural Gas Era: Pickens and Pelosi Profit Play

by Nick Hodge

I almost chuckled when I heard the offshore drilling moratorium had been lifted by a federal judge.

Not only is it a futile effort, but it risks exposing the oil industry culture of corporate carelessness and greed that is so carefully kept under wraps — similar to the way the Deepwater explosion exposed an otherwise clandestine record of BP's lackluster safety standards.

BP has seemingly ended America's love affair with oil. Even fervent supporters of 'drill, baby, drill' have reevaluated their positions in light of the spill. Florida Governor Charlie Crist is already considering measures that would permanently ban drilling in his state's waters. And all other politicians worth their reelection budgets are distancing themselves from offshore drilling support.

Here in Maryland, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich has switched his stance from supporting offshore drilling to “not favoring additional drilling... for the time being.” The only people in support of lifting the ban are those losing revenue or stock value.

Well, guess what? It ain't gonna happen. The federal government is immediately going to appeal the decision. And if that fails, an executive order will be used. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has already said he'll issue a new ban this week. Offshore drillers will then continue to lose revenue and share value as other energy sources enjoy newfound appreciation.

Ban won't be lifted (for long)

The case heard Monday was filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services (NYSE:HOS) and claims “the government arbitrarily imposed the moratorium and suspended drilling at 33 existing exploratory wells without any proof that the operations posed a threat.” It also claims the ban is costing between $165 million and $330 million each month in lost wages for Louisiana jobs tied to drilling.

I would argue Hornbeck wants the ban lifted for other reasons — namely, to offset the 20%+ dip in its share price since oil began pouring into the Gulf, as well as the S&P ratings cut that followed...

Hornbeck (NYSE: <a href='' alt='Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc.' title='Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc.'>HOS</a>)

The BP spill is now expected to cost more than $100 billion to remedy.2.5 million barrels have leaked into the Gulf with no end in sight — the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez every four days. Countless billions have been lost in other industries from fishing to tourism; 885 birds, 363 sea turtles, and 44 mammals have died.

I think I speak for the entire nation when I say screw the lost wages of rig workers and screw the lost revenue of oil companies operating in the Gulf. And I pity anyone with an opposite view — especially if you've put your money where your misguided mouth is.

Even though the ban has been temporarily lifted, it won't remain that way for long. Public companies operating in the area will soon be dealt another blow and their share prices will not be able to appreciate. Please don't misunderstand me... I don't wish these drillers to fail; I feel for those out of the job.

But I'm an investor. So I have to evaluate the facts and respond accordingly. And the facts say that oil drilling in the Gulf is done for a while. Betting otherwise could cost you a great deal of money.

Yet there is a way to make a great deal of money in the wake of this spill outside of shorting the oil companies that operate in the region.

The immediate alternative

What I'm about to tell you isn't conjecture... It's already being proven by the market:

United States Natural Gas (NYSE:<a href='' alt='The United States Natural Gas ETF, LP' title='The United States Natural Gas ETF, LP'>UNG</a>)

That's a three-month chart of the United States Natural Gas Fund (NYSE: UNG) versus the Ultra DJ-UBS Crude Oil ETF (NYSE: UCO).

As you can see, investment dollars are flowing into natural gas while they're being drained from oil. Similarly, smart oil companies (not Hornbeck) are adapting to this new environment, focusing less on oil and more on natural gas. And we're only seeing the very beginning of this trend.

But BP's disaster isn't the only reason we're switching to natural gas; it's just the catalyst. You see, we have plenty of the stuff available here in the States. And we don't have to drill 30,000 feet below the sea floor to get it. The Potential Gas Committee, which is affiliated with the Colorado School of Mines, found last year that recoverable U.S. gas reserves stood at 2,000 trillion cubic feet. Billionaire T. Boon Pickens has said, “That's enough natural gas to power [the U.S.] through the 21st century.”

And a more recent JP Morgan report found that we have 8,000 trillion cubic feet. What's more, natural gas burns much cleaner than oil or coal, and the technology is available now. It's the immediate alternative to our energy woes. And it's going to make us a lot of money.

Your billionaire advisors

In a recent essay, billionaire T. Boone had this to say about our increasing natural gas reserve figures:

This incredible surge in total gas resources will completely reshape the international energy landscape. Domestic natural gas is going to be so plentiful and so cheap that liquefied natural gas carriers from Qatar and the Middle East will stop coming to the U.S. They'll go to India and China instead. We just won't need them anymore.

He's on the board of directors of and has a large investment in Clean Energy Fuels Corp (NASDAQ: CLNE), a company that builds natural gas fueling stations. Nancy Pelosi's husband owns the stock as well... And so should you. The nation's billionaires (Pickens isn't the only one) and political leaders are about to usher in the natural gas era. And they're going to line their pockets in the process.

Already, the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions [NATGAS] Act is quickly moving through Congress. It would, among other things, offer hefty tax credits for the purchase of natural gas vehiclesand require 50% of U.S. government vehicles to run on natural gas.

Even former CIA Director James Woolsey is pushing this approach, saying in a recent op-ed:

We have well over a 200-year supply of natural gas according to current estimates. We have enough to do everything, and we're going to look like fools if we don't use it in transportation.

The Congress should adopt legislation that significantly enhances the use of domestic natural gas as a transportation fuel for heavy duty trucks and fleet such as that which is contained in H.R. 1835, the NAT GAS Act.

The Center for American Progress echoed Woolsey's sentiment in their own report. As I said, the switch to natural gas isn't conjecture... It's happening right now.

Here's what you need to do to profit:

First, buy the United States Natural Gas Fund (NYSE: UNG) as a long-term investment.

Second, buy Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (NASDAQ: CLNE) and follow T. Boone and Pelosi to the easy money.

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