The Gulf, One Year Later

One year after an explosion that triggered the worst oil spill in history, EcoSalon examines the continuing impact.

“Nine months have passed since the blowout and the rest of the nation has returned to business as usual, but I can assure you that many in the Gulf have not,” wrote Frances Beinecke in January about her experience serving on the National Oil Spill Commission. It is clear much of the ineptness she witnessed on the part of those in the position to steer a new, safer ship, persists across the board  one year after the nightmarish BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

You have to wonder if the continued protests go unnoticed, the worst disaster of its kind smoothed over as old history. Maybe the conventional media news cycle has abandoned New Orleans and the story, but we need updates as Transocean, the firm that ran the Deepwater rig, pats its executives on the back and awards them millions in bonuses after what it calls “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history.”

According to a regulatory filing, the operator boasts that despite the tragic loss of life in the Gulf, its new recorded incident rate and total potential severity rate is “a reflection on our commitment to achieving an incident free environment, all the time, everywhere.” Except we all know accidents happen, right?

Let’s see where we are in the aftermath.

Back to the Grind

As the sun sets on the disaster, it is expected new public outraged will be fueled by BP plans to restart deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico this summer after getting a firm nod from US regulators. Work will be resumed as early as July on 10 wells halted by a moratorium on drilling after the explosion. This is less than 15 months after the disaster.

Wildlife Toll

A surge in deaths among baby dolphins is now being linked to the spill, some 29 oil-covered newborn calves washing up on the northern shore of the Gulf, a higher toll than ever. And it’s not just the dolphins. Five times as many sea turtles, 10 times as many birds and 200 times more marine mammals were injured or killed than what official tallies tell us. This, according to the Centre for Biological Diversity.

Government Gridlock

Congress is sitting on its hands with regard to lasting legislative reforms recommended by President Obama’s National Oil Spill Commission. It had called for an independent safety agency within the Interior Department to overhaul the bureaucratic approach to monitoring the industry. This includes hiking the oil spill liability limit and more spending on regulation paid by fees on industry. They say prospects of passing a remaining Markey bill enacting the recommendations appear dim at the moment.

BP’s Deep Pockets

To the surprise of skeptics, DP has coughed up tens of billions of dollars in fines, cleanup efforts and payments to families of rig workers, and came out smelling like a rose – not just still in business but boasting more cash than before the spill. Thriving means a newly negotiated energy deal in India and Russia and plans to resume that drilling in the Gulf. Dollars spent: $3.6 billion in awards to injured individuals and businesses; $10.7 billion on cleanup (deploying skimming boars, airplanes, floating oil booms and crews tackling oily residue at beaches and swamps. Another $500 million pledged to academic research of the Gulf environs and support for fishing and tourism industries.

Seafood Testing Still a Must

Fish from the contaminated waters will need to be tested for consumption for decades to come, according to scientists studying the maritime disaster effects on commercial and recreational fishing yield – accounting for 5% of products eaten in the U.S. We are told by University of Florida researchers that the human nose is still the best detector of seafood that has been tainted by harmful oil chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, cancer causing if ingested in high concentrations.

Clean Up White Glove Test a Failure

From a bird’s eye view, the report card isn’t pretty for BP, with descriptions like sloppy and half-ass being bandied about. Research scientists, such as Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, say about 50% of the oil is still floating around, as depicted in images of an oil-drenched pelican in the Guardian. From her own submarine scaling the Mississippi Canyon, she can attest that it is far from back to normal on the Gulf when the ocean floor is coated in thick dark brown muck and ropes of slime. Crabs and other creatures remaining are listless, unlike the old days when her sub had them scurrying for safety.

More Signs of New Orleans Abandonment

If it’s not bad enough Congress is cutting off termite controls in the French Quarter’s homes and businesses, a pest problem aggravated by Katrina, many other public health problems persist, especially along the coast due to the oil spill. Alliance Institute Executive Director Stephen Bradbury finds there is no access to good health care for respiratory, dermatological and digestive health ailments. Apparently, patients must drive 45 minutes to an hour to find a treatment center.

Spilling over into Consumer Dining Behavior

A study by Technomic finds the  spill and nasty toxic images of wildlife has seafood consumption down at restaurants with 19 percent of consumers eating less fish as much as four months later as a direct result of the disaster. Meantime, thousands of fishermen who have joined the ranks of the unemployed are partnering with agencies and regional commissions to try to resume fishing when possible or find alternative work.

Halliburton Still Unscathed From Fallout

One thing that remains clear in all the muck is that Halliburton continues to slither under the radar, despite acknowledging it skipped doing a critical test on the formulation of its cement used to seal the BP oil well. While earlier tests apparently showed the mix was stable, they never conducted a final safety test and used the mix anyway. Still, Halliburton points to BP well design and operations as the cause of the blowout, even though the cement failed to prevent oil and gas from entering the wells. And what of the cement design? Experts say it was poor since a foam slurry was created by injecting nitrogen into the cement to secure the bottom of the well. Oops. Still, government contract favoritism has its privileges.

A Way of Life Crushed?

In a nutshell, or perhaps clam shell, observers argue a way of life has been crushed due to the spill and its perpetual damage, visible on the wildlife but not always recognizable on the devastated fishermen. Poignantly stated in the Plight of the Louisiana Fishing Family blog,”this reaches far beyond money; we are talking about the possible destruction and ending of a culture.”

Image: Infrogmation; Win Mcnamee

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.