FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Aftermath of Deepwater Horizon

On April 20, 2010, a reckless attitude towards the safety of the Gulf Coast by BP, as well as Transocean and Halliburton, caused a well to blow out 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. As the world watched in horror, underwater cameras showed a seemingly endless flow of oil – hundreds of millions of gallons – and a series of failed efforts to stop it, over a period of nearly three months. Two years later, that horror has not ended for many on the Gulf.

“People should be aware that the oil is still there,” says Wilma Subra, a chemist who travels widely across the Gulf meeting with fishers and testing seafood and sediment samples for contamination.

Subra says that the reality she is seeing on the ground contrasts sharply with the image painted by BP. “I’m extremely concerned on the impact it’s having on all these sick individuals,” she says. Subra believes we may be just at the beginning of this disaster. In every community she visits, fishers show her shrimp born without eyes, fish with lesions, and crabs with holes in their shells. She says tarballs are still washing up on beaches across the region.

While it’s too early to assess the long-term environmental impact, a host of recent studies published by the National Academy of Sciences and other respected institutions have shown troubling results. They describe mass deaths of deepwater coral, dolphins, andkillifish, a small animal at the base of the Gulf food chain. “If you add them all up, it’s clear the oil is still in the ecosystem, it’s still having an effect,” says Aaron Viles, deputy director of Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental organization active in the region.

The major class action lawsuit on behalf of communities affected by the spill has reached a proposed 7.8 billion dollar settlement, subject to approval by a judge. While this seems to have brought a certain amount of closure to the saga, environmentalists worry that any settlement is premature, saying they fear that the worst is yet to come. Pointing to the 1989 Exxon spill off the coast of Alaska, previously the largest oil spill in US waters, Viles said that it was several years before the full affect of that disaster was felt. “Four seasons after Exxon Valdez is when the herring fisheries collapsed,” says Viles. “The Gulf has been a neglected ecosystem for decades – we need to be monitoring it closely.”

In the aftermath of the spill, BP flooded the Gulf with nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants. While BP says these chemicals broke up the oil, some scientists have said this just made it less visible, and sent the poisons deeper into the food chain.

It is widely agreed that environmental problems on the coast date back to long before the well blew open. The massive catastrophe brought into focus problems that have existed for a generation. Land loss caused by oil company drilling has already displaced many who lived by the coast, and the pollution from treatment plants has poisoned communities across the state – especially in “cancer alley,” the corridor of industrial facilities along the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge. “The Gulf is a robust ecosystem and it’s been dying the death of a thousand cuts for a long time,” says Viles. “BP is legally obligated to fix what they screwed up. But if you’re only obligated to put the ecosystem back to where it was April 19, 2010, why would we?”

Fishing is a huge part of the economy for the Gulf Coast. Around 40% of the seafood caught in the continental US comes from here. Many area fishermen were still recovering from Hurricane Katrina when the spill closed a third of Gulf waters to fishing for months. George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association, a group that supports Gulf Coast fishers, says many fishers still had not recovered from Hurricane Katrina when the oil started flowing from the BP spill.  Now, he says, many are facing losing their homes. “Production is down at least 70 percent,” compared to the year before the spill, he says. “And prices are still depressed thirty, forty, sixty percent.”

In a video statement on BP’s website, Geir Robinson, Vice President of Economic Restoration for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, says that the company believes the legal settlement will resolve most legitimate economic claims. “We do have critics,” adds Robinson. “And we’re working hard every day to show them that we will meet our responsibilities.”

Environmentalists and scientists also complain that Obama administration has let down the Gulf Coast. Viles is critical of the role the US government has played, saying that by inaction they seemed to protect BP more than coastal communities or the environment. “The coast guard seems to empower the worst instincts of BP,” Viles says. “I don’t know if it’s Stockholm Syndrome or what.”

International environmental groups have also joined in the criticism. Oceana, a conservation group with offices in Europe and the Americas, released a report on Tuesday criticizing the US government’s reforms as being either ineffective or nonexistent, saying “offshore drilling remains as risky and dangerous as it was two years ago, and that the risk of a major spill has not been effectively reduced.”

Theresa Dardar lives in Bayou Pointe-au-Chien, a Native American fishing community on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Dardar and her neighbors have seen their land vanish from under their feet within their lifetimes due to canals built by the oil companies to access wells. The canals brought salt water into freshwater marshes, helping cause the coastal erosion that sees Louisiana lose a football field of land every 45 minutes. The main street that runs through the community now disappears into the swamps, with telephone poles sticking out of the water.

Now, in addition to worries about disappearing land and increasing risk of hurricanes, she fears that her family’s livelihood is gone for good. “It’s not going to be over for years,” she says, expressing a widely held concern among fishers here. “We’re just a small Native American fishing community. That’s all they’ve done their whole lives. Some of them are over 60. What are they going to doIf BP gives them money for the rest of their lives, that’s one thing. But if not, then what can they do?

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist based in New Orleans and author of the book Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six.

 

 

More articles by:

Jordan Flaherty is a filmmaker and journalist based in New Orleans. You can see more of his work at jordanflaherty.org.

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail