The 20-meter safety zone surrounding all Deepwater Horizon booming operations and oil response efforts taking place in Southeast Louisiana was established by the Coast Guard under the authority of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PDF).
A news release from the official site of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command website prohibits -- under the penalty of law -- vessels from coming within 20 meters of booming operations, boom, or oil spill response operations. If a vessel operator cannot avoid the 20-meter rule, they're required to be cautious of the areas by transiting at a safe speed and distance.
Violators of an oil spill safety zone could be subject to civil penalty fines up to $40,000 and willful violations could result in being prosecuted for committing a class D felony.
Permission from Coast Guard needed to enter established 'safety zone'
According to the news release, the safety zone was established to protect members of the response effort, the installation and maintenance of oil containment boom, the operation of response equipment and protection of the environment by limiting access to and through deployed protective boom.
Anyone wanting to enter the established safety zone must get permission from the Coast Guard Captain of the Port of New Orleans by calling 504-846-5923.
On July 4, the Coast Guard issued a clarification -- also pertaining to rising reports of media being denied access to many of the areas devastated by the oil spill and claims of media censorship -- asserting that the safety zone rule would not prevent photographers from documenting the spill, response to the spill, or effects of the spill on wildlife.
Regarding the 20-meter safety zone, Megan Moloney, spokesperson for BP Deepwater Horizon Response National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen, told the Boston Herald “This distance is insignificant when gathering images.” Photographic examples of the difference 20 meters makes can be found in the Boston Herald article. Some photographers have said they will use telephoto lenses, but they still won't get the whole picture.
Admiral Allen has stated that the new rule is aimed at protecting clean-up workers, but as noted by the WSWS, he failed to cite a single incident of safety being compromised by 'unauthorized personnel.'
Media kept away from places they need to be
The Times-Picayune reported that because booms are often placed more than 40 feet on the outside of islands or marsh grasses, the 20-meter rule could make it difficult to photograph and document the impacts of oil on land and wildlife, and provided many examples of media being banned and removed from certain areas while being threatened with arrest and harassed.
Critics of the rule claim it intentionally tries to prevent the media from showing the true magnitude of the death and destruction being inflicted in the Gulf of Mexico and violates First Amendment rights. CNN's Anderson Cooper expressed his disdain over the Coast Guard's rule, repeatedly claiming "We are not the enemy here." Cooper said the safety zone law prevents reporters and photographers from getting close to just about any place they need to be, workers won't talk to the press because they're afraid of losing their jobs and private security -- usually local LA police or Sheriff's departments -- are blocking cameras and access to many parts of the oil-soaked Gulf coast.
There are growing concerns that clean-up workers might defy a BP gag order and reveal more of the dangerous conditions in the Gulf Coast, and an unknown number of those workers have become ill from being exposed to toxins in the oil and the chemicals used to disperse the oil. Many of those workers could be facing a lifetime of chronic ailments. There are also growing concerns as to why the Gulf Coast clean-up is moving so slowly.
President Obama's policy has resulted in covering up the devastation in the Gulf Coast when the world's population has the right to know what is happening to the area surrounding the oil spill. BP's claims on the amount of oil they've recovered have been grossly overstated, and it is virtually impossible to assess the total magnitude of the damage or know how to properly respond to it. This cover up has been ongoing for the past two and a half months now and there doesn't appear to be any end in sight.
Meanwhile, as tar balls from the spill wash up on Texas shores -- meaning that all the Gulf Coast states have now been hit by oil from the spill -- it appears that the crude deceptions over the Gulf Coast oil spill will continue as local police and federal officials work with BP to deter journalists, by any means possible, from uncovering the truth about the BP oil spill and the total devastation unleashed on the Gulf Coast and it appears that BP is still running the show.