USA/FILE: One year anniversary of the BP Gulf oil spill - cleanup continues and controversy lingers
USA/FILE: One year anniversary of the BP Gulf oil spill - cleanup continues and controversy lingers
- Title: USA/FILE: One year anniversary of the BP Gulf oil spill - cleanup continues and controversy lingers
- Date: 18th April 2011
- Summary: VENICE, LOUISIANA, UNITED STATES (APRIL 7, 2011) (REUTERS) VENICE MARINA MEN MOVING COOLER FILLED WITH FISH
- Embargoed: 3rd May 2011 13:00
- Location: Usa
- Country: USA
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes,Environment / Natural World
- Reuters ID: LVA5VGQTP2U8HNYXUR5CMFZPJ1ZE
- Story Text: Flame colored oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and soaked pelicans trapped in molasses thick pools of oil --- these were some of the most enduring images from the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The Deep Water Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people and introduced a new level of economic and environmental uncertainty to the U.S.'s Gulf Coast.
Nearly a year after the BP oil spill began, the people of Louisiana's Gulf Coast are still struggling to return to a way of life that once dominated the region, but the impact of the Deep Water Horizon explosion has had lasting effects. Despite billions of dollars spent and an army of cleanup workers deployed, many in the region fear the once thriving tourism and seafood industries will never return.
Before the accident, James Guerineau made his living taking tourists on fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico, but the charter captain has seen little action since the night of April 20, 2010.
"I'd like to go back to fishing, to get more trips and to get the confidence from everybody to come back to Venice and do their fishing," Guerineau said.
He believes the spill has unfairly tarnished the area's reputation for seafood and tourism. Guerineau, who spent years working as a mechanic before becoming a boat captain, has gone back to fixing motors to supplement his income.
"Wish I had a trip today instead of pulling wrenches, getting my hands dirty," he said.
A sign along the winding road that threads through the bayous towards the spill's ground zero sums up how many in the region feel about the accident. It reads: 'Damn BP! God Bless America.' The sign is just outside Venice, a fishing village in southern Louisiana that served as the staging area for spill response teams.
"They are still making it hard on us for getting permits to work and things like that. It has hurt us. BP has made it tough on us - from their mistakes," oilfield worker Curtis Dantone said.
More than 500,000 Gulf residents have claimed compensation from a $20 billion fund set up by BP -- at the insistence of President Barack Obama.
The accident at the mile (1.6 km)-deep Macondo well off Louisiana's coast, spewed more than 4 million barrels of oil (168 million gallons/636 million liters) into the Gulf in three months. It was the biggest ever accidental release of oil into an ocean.
While the spill has had a clear impact on coastal economies, the environmental toll has been difficult to quantify.
Images of an oil soaked pelican leaning over a boom to sip fresh water offered Americans a disturbing glimpse at the possible ecological impact. It also gave weight to dire predictions from environmentalists and Gulf experts. One year on, oil from the spill clogs wetlands, pollutes the ocean and endangers wildlife.
Marine biologist John Hocevar of Greenpeace believes that the ecological damage is still unfolding and it may be years before scientists know its full extent. He spent several months in the region last year and piloted a two-man submarine to assess the impact on the Gulf of Mexico.
"Most of the oil is still in the Gulf today. It's in the water. It's in the sediment. It's on the sea floor. A lot of it is washed up into the wetlands. It is still there. It is still being eaten by marine life today," Hocevar said.
Dan Skermetta runs a local lodge and has spent years leading sport fishermen through Louisiana's labyrinth of waterways.
"I think the long-term results of the oil spill have yet to be seen because you don't have anything to gauge it by," Skermetta said.
"Fresh oil on freshly laid eggs that spawned last summer - you are going to lose some fish, you are going to lose some shellfish, lose crabs and lose some marshland with the oil that lays on the marsh grass and the canes" Skermetta said.
Sluggish behavior by crabs has been attributed to oil plume damage to the ocean floor by one scientist from the University of Georgia. Bluefin tuna, which breeds only in the northern Gulf, is down nearly 20 percent. Officials have also reported finding large numbers of dead oysters in offshore beds.
Boat captain Joshua Castille has fared better than most of his fellow shrimpers and fishermen. BP has regularly chartered his boat, the 'Captain Kinney' to help with containment efforts.
"It was tough right after the oil spill before any of us got jobs," Castille said.
"Once I got a job, it was O.K. I had something to feed my family with."
He said he is grateful to BP for the regular paycheck.
In response to the the spill, BP deployed fleets of boats, helicopters and experts throughout the Gulf. Crews numbering in the hundreds could be seen gathering tar balls and debris along beaches from Louisiana to Florida for months afterward. The oil giant says it has spent over $16 billion on redress and restoration projects, with total spending estimated at $40.9 billion.
BP's nightmare began when a surge of methane gas known to rig hands as a "kick" sparked an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 people. The rig sank two days later.
The race to contain the oil and cap the ruptured well, captivated the world's attention. BP was widely criticized for its safety standards and the company's perceived insensitivity to Gulf coast residents.
"There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I'd like my life back," BP's Chief Executive Tony Hayward told reporters at the time.
The remark and the storm of criticism that followed cost Hayward his job. He was replaced by Robert Dudley days later.
Many Americans also took issue with the Obama administration's initial response to the spill. They felt it was too slow and deliberative. It was a perception the president sought to squelch, during his several trips to the region. He also deployed National Guard troops to erect HESCO barriers and appointed Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen to oversee cleanup efforts.
After several failed attempts, and after spewing oil for 153 days, the Macondo well was eventually capped on July 15, 2010. In an instant, concerns about the spill's impact seemed to disappear from the national agenda completely.
Some speculate the use of dispersants including the controversial Corexit, prevented much of the oil from surfacing, creating an "out of sight, out of mind" effect.
William Murray, an analyst who follows energy policy for a private research company says chemicals were definitely a factor.
"In this case, a lot of dispersant was used right at the wellhead, right where the leak was coming out so a lot of oil was trapped and did not coagulate on top," Murray said.
Hocevar and other environmentalists have had concerns about Corexit for years. Corexit, which was used heavily in the month immediately following the BP spill, was later replaced by less toxic dispersants.
Hocevar believes the government deliberately ignored scientists' recommendations.
"There was some dissent within the government, especially among scientists who were unhappy with how data and research was being used. At higher levels, the government seemed to be doing everything they could to spin away the spill and pretend like the mission was accomplished when really the truth was very different," he said.
Greenpeace has filed over a 100 FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests with the government for documents related to the spill.
In the year following the explosion, the oil industry has spent an unprecedented amount of money to build more containment domes like the 'Top Hat' vessel developed for the BP spill. They've also pooled resources to form response teams which could be activated immediately after an accident, according to David Knapp, a Senior Editor at the Energy Intelligence Center.
"Some of it is because it is the right thing to do. Some of it is because it's very expensive not to do it if something goes wrong," Knapp said.
The industry also hopes the self-imposed measures will deter further government involvement.
"They would like to be self-policing" Knapp said.
Recent changes aside, policy analyst William Murray is not convinced the industry's days of gambling big are over.
"Technology will push frontier technologies out further into the ocean, out into the Arctic which is a totally different environment to contain in. Those are places in the next twenty years that we can expect there to be serious risks," he said.
While images of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico renewed the national dialog about alternative energy and the perils of offshore drilling, many locals view the moratorium as a knee-jerk response.
"The BP incident, don't get me wrong, is tragic. Eleven or twelve people lost their lives. Nothing ever good comes out of that," Louisiana resident Christopher Champagne said.
"Every company does the best they can. There are still always going to be something that goes wrong."
Charter captain turned boat mechanic James Guerineau feels the same way.
"The economy is bad. We've got to get drilling back so we boost up our economy back here to get the price of oil back down again where everybody can use their boats," Guerineau said.
Few including Castille are confident the Gulf's worst days are already behind them. They're well aware that it took up to four years for some fisheries to collapse after the Exxon spill.
Though his work with BP shielded him from financial ruin, Castille said it also gave him an unsettling view of the spill.
"I still see oil out there today. You still sheen and stuff. There's not like there's a whole lot, like there was. But, it is still there," Castille said.
It is the one point that almost everyone from industry insiders to environmentalists can agree on.
"Kinda really worried about it coming back when it warms up. I don't know if it is going to come off the bottom or what it is going to do," he said.
Like many others in this fiercely proud state, Castille fears the BP disaster will define Louisiana for years to come.
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