With Louisiana's barrier islands in the background, oil streams into Barataria Bay, inundating the inside waters north of Grand Isle on Wednesday - Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune

The horror continues here on the Gulf Coast, as each day news of the oil spill becomes more and more dismal. Each day, another attempt to staunch the flow of oil fails. Each day, more coastline is covered in oil—more than 140 miles thus far. Each day, more “protective” booms fail. The heartbreak continues, as each day, more wildlife dies. Each day, the estimate of the amount of oil gushing forth into the Gulf seems to rise. I am so angry that I begin and end each day with a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat. How can they do this to our coast? How can they do this to our wildlife? Why won’t anyone step in to say enough is enough?

So far, we don’t know whether the latest attempt to “cut and cap” the spill will work. Although the cap is in place, oil continues to spew. The Coast Guard now estimates that the amount of oil escaping is somewhere between 500,000 and one million gallons of crude per day. And here we are, on Day 45.

A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010 – Charlie Riedel/AP Photo

The message boards are filled with debates—is this Bush’s fault? Is this Obama’s fault? Is this our, the American public’s fault, a result of our all-consuming need for oil, our selfishness, our short-sightedness? The debate is a worthy one, but it’s not helpful to those currently living along the Gulf Coast who are devastated by what’s happening now and are fearful of what the future may hold.

Yes, offshore drilling holds risks, but this catastrophe did not have to happen. The Deepwater Horizon explosion was caused by greed on the part of BP, with help from Transocean, Halliburton, and the Minerals Management Service. In BP’s rush to cut corners, in their desire to speed up the drilling process, they gambled with the lives of the workers on the rig and with the future of the Gulf Coast.

It didn’t have to be this way, but BP does not hold all of the blame solely. I am furious that our government has allowed oil companies to drill deeper and deeper offshore in their quests for oil and yet requires no feasible plan for action to prevent a catastrophe like this one or to contain it once it occurs. As quoted in a USA Today article, BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said that BP officials had to improvise  because of the “unforeseen circumstances” of the event. “Nobody foresaw an incident in which something like this occurred,” Rinehart said. How is it that no one could foresee this? Why are we allowing oil companies to drill for oil a mile beneath the surface of the ocean with no plan for how to respond when the unthinkable happens?

A Brown Pelican sits in heavy oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast Thursday, June 3, 2010 – Charlie Riedel/AP Photo

Each day, more and more evidence of BP’s outrageous safety record is unearthed—as noted in another post, BP has been cited for 760 “egregious, willful” safety violations in the last three years. The runners-up, Conoco-Phillips and Sunoco, each were cited for eight violations during the same time period.

Of course, this should come as no surprise from a company that once wrote up an analysis that compared its workers to the “Three Little Pigs” and advanced the use of cost savings over more costly safety measures. It’s maddening that this catastrophe, which has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup and containment measures with no end in sight, may have been prevented with the purchase of a $500,000 acoustic switch which, as you may recall, BP opted against.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Minerals Management Service could have required the acoustic switch, as do many of the other major offshore oil producing countries. However, the MMS  decided “the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.”

And what were those back-up plans? Well, it appears that BP was allowed to just copy and paste its Gulf Coast emergency response plan from an old one it had lying around. Seals, sea otters, and walruses are listed in the emergency response plan as the animals that could be affected by an oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon—animals that must have somehow managed to migrate into the Gulf from the much cooler climes they normally inhabit. The emergency equipment provider BP lists for the “rapid deployment of spill response resources on a 24-hour, 7 days a week basis” is, in actuality, a Japanese home shopping site akin to QVC. This is the emergency response plan that our government found adequate for deep water drilling.

Boom on the beach at Grand Isle State Park, Wednesday May 26, 2010– David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune

On Thursday, Tony Hayward admitted in an interview with the Financial Times that it was an “entirely fair criticism” that BP was not prepared to deal with an oil leak of this magnitude and justified the lack of a response plan by saying it was a “low-probability, high-impact” incident. Hayward also commended BP’s containment efforts to date, saying, “Considering how big this has been, very little has got[ten] away from us.” The people of the Gulf Coast certainly don’t agree with this assessment.

And now that the worst has happened, now that the things that could not be foreseen have occurred, we hear over and over from the Obama administration, from BP, and from the Coast Guard about all of the hundreds of hours of manpower and thousands of feet of boom that have been deployed to prevent the oil from reaching our shores. And then we hear the real, heartbreaking truth of this situation—of the ineffective and ineffectual response. There are reports that BP bused in as many as 400 extra cleanup workers in advance of President Obama’s visit last week. Less than a week later, the workers had disappeared. “They’re all but gone,” said a local official.  Several residents of Grand Isle called into the New Orleans talk radio station on Friday morning to report that the hundreds of workers are back, again in advance of the President’s latest visit. One can’t help but wonder if this charade is only for the President’s benefit or whether it’s for the benefit of the nation at large.

BP contract workers are coming forward, stating that they have been required to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibit them from talking to the press. And BP is apparently in charge of deciding which affected areas members of the press may visit. When a reporter from Mother Jones asked a BP representative why she was not allowed to see a local wildlife refuge where oil has come ashore, the response was because “it’s BP’s oil.”  In an interview with the New York Daily News, a contract worker stated “There is a lot of cover-up for BP. They specifically informed us that they don’t want these pictures of the dead animals [to get out]. They know the ocean will wipe away most of the evidence.” Fortunately, as difficult as it is to view them, pictures of the devastation are making their way into the public eye.

Nesting pelicans are seen landing as oil washes ashore on an island that is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseated spoonbills in Barataria Bay, just inside the coast of Louisiana, Saturday, May 22, 2010 – Gerald Herber/AP Photo

On Thursday night, Rachel Maddow reported from Grand Isle, Louisiana on the “pitiful” response to the oil spill and on the ineffectual use of protection and diversion booms that neither protect nor divert. She showed miles and miles of boom that have not been maintained and have broken away from their moorings—moorings, by the way, that consist of nothing more than bamboo poles stuck in the water. This, in the 21st century, is BP’s response to an oil spill. Bamboo poles and booms. And of course, millions of gallons of toxic dispersants, which BP continues to pump into the Gulf, weeks after the EPA told them to find a safer alternative. Technology has advanced to the point that we can drill more than a mile underneath the surface of the ocean for oil, but nary a thought has been given as to how to respond to a catastrophe like this, once it actually happens.

In the meantime, BP has spent $50 million to launch a new commercial in which Tony Hayward says that BP “has taken full responsibility for cleaning up the spill in the Gulf” and again promises that the company will “honor all legitimate claims.” This is in stark contrast to a press release disseminated by the State of Louisiana, announcing that it has requested that BP give the state access to its procedures for approving or denying claims related to the spill. Not surprisingly, BP has refused. The state reports that of the “37 claims categories ranging from loss of income for shrimpers, crabbers, oyster processors and fishermen to loss of rental property income and damage to animals and property, 26 categories have 70 percent or more of unpaid claims. In 17 business categories, 71 percent of claims are still pending. For commercial loss of income, 57 percent of claims are unpaid. Less than 25 percent of business interruption claims have been paid.”

And so, we continue to watch, and wonder, and wait for the end of this catastrophe. For the oil to stop flowing in hopes that the cleanup effort can begin in earnest. And people in this area continue to wonder if they are watching the slow, painful death of life on the Gulf Coast.

###
Andrea Lee Meyer

Andrea Lee Meyer

Andy Meyer is a native of St. Simons Island, Georgia. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she lived briefly in Savannah before heading west. She made it as far as New Orleans, where she met and married a local boy. She's currently a grant writer and administrator at Tulane University and spends her free time reading, writing, and teaching her four-year-old daughter, Emmeline, the importance of phrases like "Go Dawgs" and "Who Dat." She blogs at www.gris-grits.blogspot.com.

5 Comments
  1. Alex Kearns

    Another superb article, Andrea. Thank you. I know that people will tire of the pain and outrage soon enough as another national or international catastrophe takes the stage (such is the world’s attention span) but until then we must all keep writing, questioning and voicing our sense of betrayal at the systems that have failed – and those who have created this disaster.
    I attended a meeting tonight and was, as I was on May 2nd, called a “chicken little”, that this would not affect the coastal waters of Georgia and that I was an “alarmist.” All that we can do is to organize volunteers, ensure that they are well-trained to deal with the inevitable environmental fall-out and call for a complete overhaul of the system that was charged with protecting our nation.

    From the ENS and NCAR.

    “BOULDER, Colorado, June 3, 2010 (Environmental News Service) – Oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and into the open ocean as early as this summer, according to a detailed computer modeling study released today by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

    The computer simulations indicate that, once the oil in the uppermost ocean has become entrained in the Gulf of Mexico’s fast-moving Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida’s Atlantic coast within weeks. It can then move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east to the open ocean.

    Whether the oil will be a thin film on the surface or mostly subsurface due to mixing in the upper ocean is not known. The flow in the model represents the best estimate of how ocean currents are likely to respond under typical wind conditions. More model studies are underway that will indicate what might happen to the oil in the Atlantic Ocean.”

  2. I disagree that assigning blame helps nobody. The fact is, inadequate regulation wrecked our economy and has wrecked the Gulf Coast. Adequate regulation would have prevented BP from drilling in the Gulf without adequate protections being in place for such a catastrophe. Understanding why this happened and assigning blame is important because, if we fail to do so, no steps will be taken to prevent a future disaster.

    I just read a quote from a member of the Tea Party in Gwinnett County who likened a county government plan to collect garbage from unincorporated areas as “socialism tantamount to Obamacare.”
    This is a BASIC GOVERNMENT SERVICE!!! When we invaded Iraq, trash was piling up in the streets because of the lack of this service, just as it is piling up now in Gwinnett County.

    After eight years of completely crazy economic policy driven by this kind of ideology, somehow libertarianism is on the rise. I just do not get it. I can’t understand it. This disaster, I’m sorry to say, is the fault of all of those Republicans and, I’m sure, a few Democrats, who have supported inadequate regulation of our economy. These are the same people who will be complaining about the lack of education in America–after they abolish the U.S. Department of Education.

  3. Andrea Lee Meyer

    Joel, I agree with you that it is important to assign blame where it’s due. Trust me, I’m furious with the Bush Administration and the increasing evidence that during his eight-year reign, the MMS became a completely dysfunctional agency that performed absolutely zero of the oversight responsibilities it was charged with. Unfortunately, however, my anger and frustration also bleeds over onto the Obama Administration, as many of us on the Gulf Coast feel that thus far, he’s done too little, too late to address this catastrophe.

    I suppose my main point regarding assigning blame at this point would be that it gets a bit old reading the message boards and hearing people say that this is our fault for being an oil-driven economy. Is that true? Yes. Is that going to change anytime soon? No. And being told that I’m to blame for this mess because I use plastic products and drive a car isn’t really helping right now.

    And I agree with your complete and total bewilderment regarding the rise in popularity of the Libertarian party. Trust me, it’s quite ironic to see our governor, who has been at the top of the small-government bandwagon, now demanding more help from the federal government.

  4. I can definitely see your point about the futility of CNN “Crossfire”-like approaches to this situation, espcially given that this catastrophe is no abstraction for you whatsoever. I would just say that, given that ours will be an oil-driven economy for the foreseeable future and that cars, plastic and all the rest will certainly continue to be a big part of our lives, we’ve got to have actual regulatory reform. Just as we’ve got to properly regulate the banking and shadow-banking systems, we’ve got to properly regulate the oil industry. To have these Tea Party people coming out of the woodwork and repeating the opposite message ad nauseum even in the face of all of this–well, it’s hard not to get a little steamed. The more we call them and their ilk on the actual consequences of their anything-goes ideology, the better. But, yes, maybe it should wait until the situation is under control and everyone has cooperated to the best of their abilities. In any case, it’s a great article, and very sorry you and yours have to go through this, with the aftermath of Katrina still playing out. It’s not fair.

  5. The Tea Party is the answer. The Constitution was created to enable a government of LIMITED and ENUMERATED powers. Whether it’s a hurricane, oil spill, unjust war… whatever… we must LIMIT the power of government to further kill us with their INCOMPETENCE!!!

Comments are closed.