By Melissa Nelson Gabriel
Pensacola residents joined hundreds of people who marched through the streets of New Orleans on Wednesday to oppose the federal government’s decision to lease about 43 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to companies for oil and gas drilling.
Protesters interrupted the lease auction inside the Superdome Wednesday morning.
Pensacola resident Katie Krasinski and several of her family members joined in the march through New Orleans.
“I think our community has become very apathetic about the issue,” Krasinski told the Pensacola New Journal as she marched around the Superdome.
Protesters could be heard shouting “no drill, no spill” and other anti-drilling chants in the background as Krasinski, speaking via cell phone, described the march.
In the nearly six years since globs of oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon washed ashore on beaches from Perdido Key to Navarre, Krasinski said many people seem to have forgotten the environmental and economic damage that happened in Florida.
“At the time of the oil spill I didn’t feel like I had a voice. I had an awakening after the oil came to my shore and threatened my family’s health and my livelihood,” she said. “It was devastating then and we still have tar mats out there off our beach today.”
Christian Wagley of 350 Pensacola helped organize a bus to send Pensacolians to New Orleans for the event. The Pensacola organization is part of 350.org, an international campaign to raise awareness about climate change.
Wagley said about 40 people left at 4 a.m. Wednesday to join the protests.
“Even if the protest didn’t stop the lease sale, it raised awareness about the massive environmental and social costs of fossil fuels. The tragedy of the oil spill in 2010 really brought home those costs,” he said.
Lynn Ogden of Pensacola was among the bus riders. Odgen said she was happy she and other protesters actually made it inside the Superdome and that their voices were heard.
She said the 2010 spill spurred her activism and that she hopes events like the protest in New Orleans will help prevent future environmental disasters.
“I hope we are mitigating another disaster by letting people know what is happening with the leases,” said.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 rig workers and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon washed ashore on Pensacola Beach in June that year.
Hilary Turner of Pensacola said the spill is a big part of the reason behind her ongoing work as an environmental advocate.
“That raised my awareness a lot. I saw the degree of devastation offshore drilling can cause and the degree of negligence by some oil companies,” she said.
Turner said she thought she and other protesters got their message across on Wednesday.
“The people involved in the auction seems surprised that we were there and how loud we were. I think our presence was definitely felt,” she said.