Remembering John Robinson

Robinson: an ocean giant

About 15 years ago, I was invited to an advisory board meeting of a start-up pollution cleanup company called AbTech Industries. I didn’t go for the free trip to Santa Barbara, nor as an escape from my toddler sons for a desperately needed good night’s sleep. No, what drew me was a chance to meet famed ocean scientist Sylvia Earle.

When I walked into the advisory board meeting, the extraordinary petroleum-related experience of all of the Ph.Ds in the room awed me. That day I met many of the professors that would later be quoted so prominently after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Barely 10 years into the field by then, I was invited to talk about the stormwater regulatory arena and the potential needs under the Clean Water Act for pollution cleanup technologies. That’s where I met John Robinson.
John didn’t make a very good first impression on me. An obsessive smoker, he offered biting opinions on a wide variety of topics and people. He also seemed to downplay the potential environmental impacts of everyday operations in the petroleum industry. I didn’t understand until years later why he understated those impacts. Day-to-day operational mishaps paled to the environmental horrors he witnessed firsthand at the Amoco Cadiz spill in France, at Valdez and in the Persian Gulf.

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