Oil Update

I wish I could say that the oil is gone, the Gulf’s problems are behind us. But that’s a lie.

New oil washes up everyday along the coast. Old uncleaned oil continues to eat away at our marshes and wetlands making the coast even more susceptible to hurricane damage in addition to affecting our food supply and ruining a way of life. According to Garret Graves, director of the Louisiana governor’s office of coastal activities, “Right now, we still have more than a hundred miles that is still active with oil on it.” Reports of buried oil are also coming in from along the coast.

I wish I could tell you that BP has made the people of this region “whole.” But that would be a lie, too. Less than 30 % of claims have been paid at all and most people receiving settlements report receiving pennies on the dollar and having to sign away their legal rights to get the money. The boats that helped as “vessels of opportunity” remain contaminated. BP promised to decontaminate the boats as they are not allowed to return to work as charter boats and fishing boats while still contaminated with oil. The boats sit, dirty and out of work and with no payments being sent to compensate for losses.

Though there’s a person in charge of dispensing the BP fund, after 9 months of devastation, there’s still no point person whose job it is to helm the clean-up and restoration of the Gulf or to coordinate the investigation into the spill or to address our seafood safety concerns or look into the longterm effects of the dispersant used, etc. etc. etc. There’s no one person in charge of this massive clean-up, restoration and litigation operation.

This is not a local problem. A foreign corporation took an epic dump in U.S. waters and are still in charge of their own investigation. If a corporation can do it to our region, they can do it to yours too. Not only have they not been cooperative, they’ve even gone so far as to say they’ve run out of samples of oil to give outside researchers. Really? 200 million gallons poured out of the well and they don’t have enough samples to go around?

Starting in September, independent researchers who requested samples were answered with a BP form letter stating, “Requests for source oil will be delayed…” Biogeochemist, Andrew Zimmerman, seeking support research on the effects of oil on marshes as well as clean-up methods, requested oil samples from BP beginning in July. After 3 months of getting the runaround, he received BP’s form letter in late September. An oil-spill expert from U.C. Santa Barbara, Ira Leifer, was part of the government’s task force that calculated the official flow-rate estimate for the spill. His requests for oil samples began within days of the blowout but he eventually quit asking.

And what of those currents that were supposed to carry the oil along the East coast and on to Europe? As animals continue to die in mass inexplicable numbers all over the world, I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with our poisoned waters. It seems a question worth asking. Millions of birds migrate through the Gulf as do many sea creatures. Among the many mass animal deaths recently, 100,000 fish in Arkansas turned up dead and 300 turtles died in Mississippi. I’m not saying it’s related to the oil or dispersant, but I am asking if it might be. Shouldn’t we all be asking? A recent report stated, “Wetlands and ecosystem soil/sediment samples and aquatic tissue samples from all areas sampled contained Alkylated PAHs and Oil Range Organic Petroleum Hydrocarbons.” Not good.

I’d love to tell you that our seafood is safe. But that would also be a lie. What little testing has been done was based on 4 shrimp per meal for a person of 176 pounds. I weigh far less than that as do 60% of those surveyed. 40% of respondents also have children who weigh a fraction of 176 pounds. And 4 shrimp? Have they seen a bowl of gumbo or a plate of creole? They also underestimated how often people of this region eat seafood. Dr. William Sawyer stated that they, “Found not only petroleum in the digestive tracts [of shrimp], but also in the edible portions of fish. We’ve collected shrimp, oysters and finned fish on their way to marketplace – we tested a good number of seafood samples and in 100 percent we found petroleum.” Really not good.

The FDA relaxed the acceptable PAH level for gulf fish in June, allowing for a risk of 1 person in 100,000 developing cancer as a result of seafood consumption, as opposed to the previous 1 person in 1 million. So rather than attempting to eliminate the toxin from our food supply, they’re just grading on a curve now.

BUT, I still eat our seafood. It’s still the tastiest in the world and more regulated that seafood imported from other countries. Vietnam imported 48,000 tons of shrimp to the U.S. last year, a new record for them. The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters reports that the U.S. had a 20 % increase in importing and a 40 % increase in prices. I’d rather eat our tasty, poisoned seafood than crappy overpriced Vietnamese shrimp that isn’t even subjected to our testing.

Though most agree that their bad cement job led to the explosion of the well, Halliburton has managed to escape being named as a defendant in the government’s civil law suit. Normally, anyone who may be liable is listed as a defendant and given an opportunity to prove their way off that list. Our government just gave them a pass. The company’s 4th quarter earnings more than doubled this year. BP’s profits are up too. Guess they got their lives back.

Meantime, the claims process remains a maze designed to wear people down, force them to take settlements and sign away their rights. A man recently got down on his knees to beg Feinberg for help at a public meeting. He’d gotten through having no presents for his child’s Christmas but begged for power and water in his home, food on his table.

For the record, claimants have 3 options:

1. Final settlements for all damages, present and future, which requires the person agree to not seek any future compensation or sue anyone involved in the spill.

2. Small interim claims. These don’t require a lawsuit waiver.

3. Quick payments of $5,000 for individuals or $25,000 for businesses.  These require a lawsuit waiver but, unlike final and interim payments, they don’t require financial documentation. Only those approved for emergency claims in 2010 can receive a “quick payment.” ( though it has already been 9 months so one wonders what a slow payment schedule must be)

I can’t help but ask myself what I would do if I were a shrimper with a family to support and a boat I’m not allowed to use, with bills mounting, banks demanding, children needing… what would I do? The people of Alaska warned us of all this, told the tales of processing fatigue, of people abandoning what was right for what would feed their family and turn the electricity back on.

I don’t know why the news would rather focus on where congressmen sit than our national food supply, our health, our waters and wetlands. All I know is that the oil is not gone, the people are not “made whole” and there’s still no one appointed to take care of this catastrophe unless you want to file a claim that likely won’t be paid in full if at all.

It breaks my heart. I’m hoping it at least makes you curious. I continue to find updates at http://oilspillaction.com/. Though the site is biased against BP, each article contains links to more unbiased reporting and it’s updated daily.

And I repeat my modest proposal. If Feinberg is the only point man we get, perhaps he needs to move here until his task is completed. Perhaps he should forgo his “undisclosed” salary from BP and file a claim to be compensated through the same claims process to which he’s subjecting the victims of the spill. Why don’t we all agree that he should get his BP money the same way everyone else does – it’s good enough for families who lost their father on the rig, right?

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Filed under Local Cuisine, oil spill catastrophe

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