[News] Gulf Residents Live in Fear of the Future - The Aftermath of Deepwater Horizon

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 20 14:54:01 EDT 2012

April 20-22, 2012

Two Years Later, Gulf Residents Live in Fear of the Future
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 do? If 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.

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