Volunteer Opportunities Scarce in Wake of Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Volunteer Opportunities Scarce in Wake of Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Although thousands of people have offered to volunteer their time to help with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup, there has been little to do for individuals without a hazmat suit or specialized knowledge, the Associated Press reports.

Leaders of charities and BP, the company responsible for cleaning up the spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion on April 20, said the outpouring of support has been huge among people with vivid memories of Hurricane Katrina five years ago. According to BP spokesman Mark Proegler, more than fifteen thousand people from across the country have signed up on BP's Web site to volunteer, while others are volunteering through charities, environmental groups, and state agencies. However, cleaning oil-covered birds and tar-stained beaches is not as straightforward as clearing rubble, and in many cases it has been difficult to find enough work for all the volunteers.

BP's insistence on using only trained workers and professionals with access to special safety equipment to clean up the oil and wash oil-covered wildlife has added to the deepening frustration over the government and BP's response. The company has suggested that volunteers sign on with subcontractors working along the Gulf Coast. But many people who want to help are not looking for full-time work or may not qualify for employment, said Alabama Coastal Foundation executive director Bethany Kraft in an e-mail to the AP. While foremen must take a full forty-hour hazardous materials course, most workers only need an abbreviated four-hour course, Kraft said. Others argue that the need for such training, which so far BP has not opened to the public, may be overstated.

In the meantime, some ten thousand volunteers without biohazard training have registered with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and hundreds have been sent to clear beaches of debris before oil hits. Thousands more volunteers have signed up to help in Florida and Alabama, although only about a third of them have been put to work.

"One of the problems we had was getting some kind of meaningful work for volunteers," said Casi Callaway, executive director of Mobile Baykeeper in Alabama. "They were using a few to do clerical work, but people want to do more than that. They want to feel they are really a part of saving our waters and our coasts from all of this."

Mary Foster. "Plenty of Gulf Volunteers, Not Enough Work to Do." Associated Press 06/11/2010.