Petrey: Oil spill ‘big nasty mess’

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2010

The Gulf oil spill is “a big nasty mess,” said Florala’s Nick Petrey Wednesday as he headed home after his most recent bout of assisting with the clean up efforts in the Gulf.

On April 20, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oilrig left a well gushing oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, Petrey has been employed with BP through its Vessels of Opportunity program. Now, he captains the Chulmar, a 65-foot charter boat, and currently charters BP personnel as they do air quality and vessel safety checks.

For the last two months, he’s been in the “thick of things.”

“We started over near Pensacola, Fla., right after the rig blew,” he said. “We were skimming oil. Then, we went to 100 miles off shore to what we call ‘Ground Zero,’ and it was just heartbreaking.”

Petrey said he began his boating career as a charter boat captain and later, a commercial fisherman. He, like others who depend on the Gulf for their livelihood, wonders what the future has in store.

“Right now, it’s just a nasty mess,” he said. “The Gulf is filthy. The oil is in big chunks. It looks like tar, but it’s just oil. It’s not the crude oil like everyone thinks. It’s like a sticky tar.

“When we were out at ‘Ground Zero’ we saw them burning the oil off, and I got to see some of the dispersant dropped,” he said. “There’s no way of knowing how this is going to affect us in the future, but I can tell you it won’t be good for the fishing industry.”

At present, BP has pulled all personnel on shore because of a strong storm system forming in the Gulf. Employees are given a 120-hour window to get off the water in case the storm develops, he said.

Now, employees and residents are again waiting and watching – this time eyeing the storm called Tropical Storm Bonnie, which as of Thursday afternoon was located about 425 miles from Key West, Fla., and had a maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

“We’re kind of thinking this storm is going to churn the oil up and bring it to the surface,” Petrey said. “That stuff they spray on the oil makes it sink, and as the water heats up, it rises back to the surface. Like I said, a big mess. I think in the end, it’s going to hit us fishermen pretty hard. I think the oil that sunk is going to affect our bottom, hard rock and coral, and in turn, our fish. I hope it doesn’t, but it’s not looking real good.

“After this storm, we’ll have to see where things are,” he said.

Until then, Petrey plans to spend his time operating a small bay boat, checking boom and looking for oil-coated wildlife.

“I can’t say exactly where, because we’re all over the place,” he said. “But we’re working. Everyone out here is working hard.

“I will say one thing about BP, though,” he said. “They are doing everything possible that I can physically see to make things right.”

Nick Petrey pauses after returning to dock in Destin, Fla., after one of many trips out into the Gulf. | Courtesy photo