No Press Allowed? ABC Reporter Turned Away from Oil Spill Command Center

ABC's Brian Hartman pays a visit to the Unified Command Area in Robert, La.

ByABC News
May 11, 2010, 1:54 PM

Robert, La. May 11, 2010— -- With a tank full of BP unleaded I left my hotel in Hammond, Louisiana, and drove about 20 minutes up the road to the Unified Area Command in Robert, La. It's the same trip taken each day by workers from BP, contracting firms, Transocean, the Coast Guard, MMS and all the other agencies and companies trying to control the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the way, if they're paying attention, they will note a local business with a sign out front that reads: "ACTION WITHOUT VISION IS A NIGHTMARE," though it appears to have been there for a while and is not intended as a message for them.

The command center sits off a sleepy road where the treeline opens to gates bearing large Shell Oil logos. I turned at the seashell gates and pulled up to a guard post. A pleasant man asked to see my ID. I flashed the ABC News badge hanging around my neck. With a smile he waved me past.

The road wound past a fenced-in pond where I assume prospective oil workers learn to be safe while boring holes in the ocean floor in search of oil. Behind the pond was a large crane and a model oil rig, painted Shell yellow. A second guard waved me into a parking lot. It's a campus of buildings for Shell training classes. (Shell made the campus available to cleanup workers and officials at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard, according to the company, which had no involvement in the spill itself).

I walked into the main building, past signs ordering everyone to check in, past the women sitting next to folding tables stacked with papers and checklists, and wandered around. But there's not much to see. A door opened to the "Joint Information Center" room and I could see, for a flash, a hive of activity. But someone had taped pieces of copier paper over every inch of the room's glass walls.

When I ventured closer to where the unified commanding was being done, where response teams were responding and watching live video from the robot subs a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, I ran into another woman at a card table and a security guard.

"Hi. I've just driven from Mobile to Robert and I'm here to get the lay of the land. I'm with ABC News," I said.

She looked mystified.