The electronic ether is crackling with rumors of suspected collateral damage from the BP Gulf Oil catastrophe. A Youtube video purports to show rain falling in Louisiana, streaking the earth with a Deepwater Horizon sheen of oil. In Tennessee, near the Big River, TV news reports bird deaths and damage to all kinds of plants, bearing scars of an unidentified toxin. Widespread crop damages.
A leitmotif emerges, that corporate America is deliberately scuttling the ship, punching holes in its ribs below the waterline. 9/11 conspiracies have a new sibling: the Gulf Coast catastrophe. Still, I am interested in answers: could poisons in Corexit, the chemical dispersant being used by BP, be carried aloft with aromatic compounds released from the oil. Does methane convert to ozone as bloggers claim, concentrated in droplets that fall from the air like mercury in the Florida Everglades?
I read into these websites, how so many people never gave a second’s thought about precaution in the matter of laws and regulations protecting public health and the environment. On the Gulf Coast, a majority of prayers are voiced by people who would rather be free than encumbered with the costs of laws and enforcement protecting God’s creation. Just leave us alone, the states said to the federal government. In Louisiana, the locals danced at the Shrimpers and Oil Drillers Ball. I am not ready to say anything has changed, even with billions of dollars of industry and tourism and wetlands and wildlife sinking into the oil slick.
We are like a pack of dogs holding our snouts aloft, sensing for something we can’t quite smell but intuit. Mothers won’t let children on the beaches. Fathers walk away from vacation deposits on Florida condominiums. Motel lobbies, empty. The cleaning ladies go over the same surfaces with disinfectants although no one has disturbed them. We’ve never pierced Mother Earth before, a mile underwater; this blowout, these toxins stored in hundreds of millions of years of geologic history: how dare we unlock the Temple of Doom?
One senses through these internet rumors, a mass alarm bell has gone off. It should stop ringing. When it does, the multi-billion dollar industries based on well drilling– for oil, for natural gas, for water, to retrieve, to store, to mine and extract–will grow fatter and wiser. They will organize a swing in the pendulum; back from chaos to order. Here is the hoped-for sequence. In August, BP engineers defeat the blowout, capping the well with intricate, remote-controlled surgery. Triumph by joystick. Accolades. Sighs of relief. Here is the technology. Here are the engineers who saved us from wrack and ruin.
The narrative has legs. We accustom ourselves to oil-stained beaches that have to be cleaned up every night. At least for the time being, BP resolves the chronically unemployed and the need of volunteers to do something. We become night creatures trolling the high tide line with skimmers and shovels and filtering machines, so tourists can see what they bargained for. Suppliers of cotton waste become rich soaking up oil. A new baseline for recreation is accepted by the consumer– living with oil is what we do every day. Beyond petroleum, but now drill here and drill now.
This is in the future. Not in time for the November elections, but not far from them. The Gulf communities are still in a state of suspended animation. The Chambers of Commerce need to process that cleaning beaches is not something that only goes on twice a day, but will go on twice a day for years. If the experience of Alaska and the Exxon Valdez holds, there will be no choice but to live dirty. And dirty, we will. Mothers will scoot their kids into the water. There is no sea life, but it is still refreshing and the children will not be stopped. Gulf coast seafood restaurants will restock with more Asian farm-raised shrimp and tilapia. Machine made “crab” legs extruded from bits and pieces of trash fish. All-you-can-eat in Pensacola with clams from dirty water in the Phillipines, $10.99. New businesses will spring up, cleaning kids, pets and parents as they step from the beach. Anything is possible.
For now, tourism on the Gulf Coast is evaporating fast as organic compounds are volatilizing from the Deepwater Horizon. No one knows where they are going. Everyone is going, somewhere. Gradually, over time, the courts will intervene. BP will withdraw its subsidies, and life in the Gulf will return to this normal. Elected officials who railed against Big Oil will go to Washington or become lobbyists for Big Oil. This can all be anticipated, because it happens all the time.
ALAN FARAGO, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades, lives in south Florida. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org