Despite BP’s Hype, the Gulf Coast Still Reeks of Disaster

While activist’s attentions have been appropriately drawn in recent months to OWS camps, XL pipeline protests and now to Durbin, the mess in the Gulf created by the 2010 BP explosion/spill continues to seep.

Photo: Lee Celano/Reuters

 

For hundreds of thousands along the coast, whether fisherman or shopkeeper, rigger or housewife, impacts of the spill are still daily concerns.

Still pumping. Despite the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon blowup, demand for oil in the U.S. continues to rise, while foreign stocks become ever trickier to access (Libya, Saudi Arabia).

One result is that after a yearlong abstention, new leases are being sold (one upcoming sale scheduled for December 14 in New Orleans covers 21 million acres in water depths up to 11,000 feet) and new drilling permits granted (nearly 300 in the Gulf of Mexico in the past 12 months).

Among the companies given the go-ahead to drill is BP, which has been approved to sink an exploratory well about 250 miles off the coast, 6,000 feet below the surface, or 1,000 feet deeper than its Macondo well that blew in April 2010.

An added concern, reported by Sky Truth, is that despite the government’s promise to dismantle unused oil platforms and plug nonoperational wells, “there are currently 24,486 known permanently abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico and 3,593 ‘temporarily’ abandoned wells, as of October 2011.” Each has the potential to leak.

Still paying out. With shrimpers and crabbers reporting small catches and a shrunken market, Gulf oil claims czar Kenneth Feinberg announced this week that settlement to some Gulf Coast fishermen would not just continue but grow.

To date, just $6 billion of the $20 billion compensation fund established by BP to make reparations has been paid out; Feinberg’s decision will pay quadruple the claims made by shrimpers and crabbers for their 2010 losses. Without putting it in so many words, the allotment was made because no one can still say with certainty what the future of fishing will be in the Gulf thanks to the environmental degradation caused by the BP spill.

Yet Feinberg continues to argue that the slowdown is all about the marketplace, not biology. “We see no evidence in the Gulf that there is long-term biological impact,” he said in a statement announcing the increased payouts.

Meanwhile, many commercial fishermen have opted to not take any money from BP, which allows them to sue the company for potentially bigger payouts. In response, BP has gone to federal court to put a firm deadline on payouts and has been encouraging Feinberg to limit, not expand, the money he gives away.

“Shoreline cleanup is complete!”That’s at least according to BP and the Coast Guard, which last week announced it was time to move past cleanup and on to “restoration.”

Reporting that “90 percent” of the shoreline has been cleaned, the announcement officially removes BP from responsibility for any future cleanup unless it can be “proven” any new oil found originated in the 2010 spill. Even the oil company admits that would be hard to prove as the oil degrades and spreads throughout the ecosystem.

Many Gulf fishermen, who report both a lack of fish—particularly shrimp, crab and oysters—as well as deformities among those they do catch, are not convinced the cleanup is over. Those 4.9 billion barrels of oil had to go somewhere, and many believe much of it is still out there.

Those 4.9 billion barrels of oil had to go somewhere, and many believe much of it is still out there.

It’s not just the fisheries that continue to suffer. The shorelines of many of the bird-breeding islands off the Gulf coast, in Louisiana and Mississippi, are still like oil sponges—each footstep reveals an oily substance just below the sand—and tar balls continue to roll up in the surf.

Human health still at risk. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have jointly announced a long-term project aimed at monitoring the impacts of the spill on coastline residents.

Dubbed the Gulf Long-Term Follow-Up (GuLF), the idea is a “more than ten-year study” that will hopefully involve as many as 55,000 participants. Its focus is on the health implications of the handling and exposure to oil, dispersants and other chemicals in the cleanup operation.

While former cleanup workers continue to complain about rashes, respiratory problems, sores, headaches, nausea and more, the challenge now is to identify and sign up willing participants. The promised $50 gift card offered by the government may not be enough of an incentive to be poked, prodded, interviewed and visited in your home.

The study, similar to one done on cleanup workers at the site of the World Trade Center post 9/11, is imperative but it’s just one piece of what should be a sizable human health follow-up in the aftermath of one of the country’s greatest ecologic disasters.

(For the rest of my dispatches go to TakePart.com)

Posted in BP, Gulf Spill, Louisiana, Oil spills

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