[News] Gulf Residents Live in Fear of the Future - The Aftermath of Deepwater Horizon
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
by JORDAN FLAHERTY
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. Im extremely concerned on the impact
its 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 its 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, its clear the oil is still in the
ecosystem, its 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 its 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 youre 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 Fishermans
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 BPs website, Geir
Robinson, Vice President of Economic Restoration
for BPs 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
were 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 dont know if its 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
governments 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 Louisianas
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 familys livelihood is gone for good.
Its not going to be over for years, she says,
expressing a widely held concern among fishers
here. Were just a small Native American fishing
community. Thats 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, thats 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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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