How to help BP oil spill cleanup? Stay home. Let locals do it.

The drive for volunteers to help with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is focusing almost exclusively on local residents. They need the work (which is sometimes paid) and housing people from other parts of the country is complicated and expensive for relief groups.

Charlie Varley/Sipa Press/Newscom
Long lines of commercial fishermen in Venice, La., wait as representatives from BP hand out four-hour basic oil spill awareness diplomas to captains and crews. The diploma certifies the crews as able to assist in the deployment of oil containment booms. It's part of the Vessels of Opportunity program to clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

While thousands of Americans are eager to volunteer in the fight against the monster BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast, British Petroleum BP and environmental groups in the region remain focused on using local residents in their response to the Deepwater Horizon oil well disaster.

Coordinators for the efforts say that local residents need the work due to the spill’s effect on the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. Moreover, providing housing to volunteers from elsewhere will be a problem in the region because of the lingering effects of hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response here, with over 3,000 volunteers signing up for beach cleanup,” says BP spokesperson Michael Abenhoff in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. “We’ve been getting calls from all over the country and have a few volunteers here from other states, but right now we’re making this largely a local effort.”

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill and Destructive oil spills

BP is officially in charge of containing the spill and its environmental damage, and it is running two programs in the region.

  • The Vessels of Opportunity program is hiring local boatmen for as much as $2,000 a day to deploy containment booms and perform other tasks on the water.
  • A separately run on-shore effort, focused on beach cleanup and general volunteer duties, includes positions that pay $10 an hour and others that are voluntary, Mr. Abenhoff says.

Wildlife rescue efforts are being operated by nonprofit organizations under contract with BP.

Hazmat training required

BP is operating several toll-free numbers to recruit workers for its efforts. All positions, both paid and voluntary, require taking safety courses on handling hazardous materials, Abenhoff says.

“We take their information, explain our safety training, give them our schedule for safety training, and ask them when they want to attend,” he explains. He said a recent training session in Venice, La., had 500 residents show up for a class that could offer 200 seats.

Elsewhere in Louisiana, a coalition of five environmental groups is also focusing on local residents as disaster-relief volunteers.

The coalition is considering using tent camps for out-of-state volunteers if the oil comes ashore and overwhelms the state, says Steven Peyronnin, executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The coalition’s spill-response database has contact information for more than 13,000 volunteers across the country, he says.

“We’re contemplating temporary housing but won’t go ahead with those plans until we understand the specifics of the actual landfall,” says Mr. Peyronnin. “If we encounter a worst-case scenario and are looking at a recovery period spanning months, we will have volunteer opportunities for the foreseeable future.”

The New Orleans nonprofit Common Ground Collective is not encouraging volunteers from out of state at the moment and is telling local volunteers to seek paid cleanup positions with BP, says Tom Pepper, operations director for the group.

“This was caused by BP, and it’s one of the wealthiest corporations in the world,” says Mr. Pepper. “Until we know how large the need for this disaster, cleanup jobs should go to local people who need the work, and who already have their own housing.”

Hard to house out-of-state volunteers

Founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild New Orleans, Common Ground housed thousands of volunteers from across the country in temporary tent camps and gutted buildings for months after the 2005 flood. “Providing temporary housing on a large scale uses a lot of resources and is difficult to do right,” Pepper says.

Beyond the Gulf Coast, environmental and humanitarian groups and grass-roots activist are encouraging concerned Americans to get engaged without leaving home, for the time being.

  • The Daily Green website lists callouts by dozens of environmental groups to write the White House, Congress, and their state governments to express their concerns about the spill.
  • Global Green is asking for volunteers to lobby Congress to enforce tougher regulations on the oil and coal industries.
  • Oxfam America is taking donations to provide financial assistance to Gulf Coast communities affected by the spill.
  • Matter of Trust is collecting human and animal hair and other materials used to make hair mats for oil clean-up operations.
  • Sites such as and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network are providing online volunteer information.
  • Crisis Commons is setting up an online platform to merge “crowd sourced” digital media on the oil spill disaster.
  • Several organizations are calling for boycotts of BP over its safety record.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill and Destructive oil spills


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