Guest blog by LABB Intern, Callie Casstevens
I got out of work today ready to relax, when on the news a community meeting was announced for St. Bernard Parish residents, one of the many communities affected by the BP oil spill, so I jumped on my scooter and rushed over to the meeting. A small stage was set up in the front of the room, which had a panel of speakers including Coast Guard Captain Forgit, BP representative Glen DaGian, BP claims representative Allan Carpenter, and a NOAA biologist Nichole Rutherford, a crowd waited impatiently for answers.
Looking around the room sun weathered faces stared at the panel, everyone looking exhausted and frustrated. The BP representative stood in front of the room, a belt buckle with silver lining sparkling in the lights declared, “The offshore oil and gas industry has had a great relationship with southeastern Louisiana, do not forget that. We have had a great relationship with the commercial fishermen…we do not want this to hurt it. You have the best offshore oil and gas drilling in the United States, please be mad at BP but do not take your anger out on the rest of the oil and gas industry out there.” I wanted to stand up and say, shame on you sir, shame on you for asking these people in this room, who have lost everything to accept your apologies, or to condone the lack of preparation that has caused this entire situation to unfold, or should I say, spill out.
The BP claims representative gave the same scripted speech I have heard for over three weeks now, “Make a claim, we will make you whole.” However, the St. Bernard citizens were not accepting his script, one man jumped up and demanded that the panel recognize the destruction of an entire fishing culture that is taking place. “You can give us money, but you cannot give us back our culture, our heritage.” He explained how he learned making fishing nets from his father, as his father had learned from his grandfather, and so on. He threw his hands in the air hopelessly, “Why should I teach my son this trait when there’s no fish to catch in the nets anymore?” The BP claims representative told him he understood his situation, to which the crowd in an uproar declared he absolutely did not understand where they were coming from. He also told them that once they made a claim for their $5,000, that BP would contact them by the beginning of next month to discuss with them a second payment.
A grocery store owner stood in front of the microphone, her voice filling the room when she asked the million dollar question, “I remember when Murphy Oil spilt oil all over St. Bernard and people were digging three feet of oil out of their homes…so there are already storms out in the gulf, are we to expect digging eight feet of oil and dispersant out of our homes and businesses once a storm comes in?” The Coast Guard Captain walked to the microphone and instead of stating that it was not a threat stated, “We are reviewing hurricane preparation plans for each parish to make sure they are prepared.” This is just another layer to the already toxic stew that Louisiana has on her plate.
Another man walked over to the microphone and introduced himself as a commercial fishermen in St. Bernard, “I was near the dispersant today and my eyes burned, I became dizzy, short of breathe, nauseous, I still have a head ache, this stuff cannot be good for us or the water.” The Coast Guard Captain asked him only to inform him of where he was exactly so they could survey the area. Yet, the disbursement is allegedly safe? My jaw dropped when Coast Guard Captain Forgit declared how much of the chemical they have actually used to date. He stated that they were employing two methods for utilizing the disspersant, one was through the “venting process,” which injects the chemical into the actual sight of spillage underneath the water. The second method is by dropping it on the surface by plane. To date he stated that they have used over 100,000 gallons of dispersant in the venting process and over 700,000 gallons on the surface.
Yet, the biologist working for NOAA stood like a deer in headlights facing the crowd as she announced that there was much misinformation surrounding the disbursement method and chemicals. She went into great detail about the chemicals makeup, and how once the oil was broken up into tar balls, plankton and sea life would break it down further. Moreover, she stated the disbursement was ten to a hundred times safer than oil…she never addressed the fisherman who asked why he felt dizzy, short of breath, nausea, or was still suffering from a severe head ache at the meeting after having come into contact with dispersant earlier today.
I think the best comment came from one man who was born and raised in St. Bernard, “I want to ask you Mr. BP man, why did you not have a backup plan? Every captain in this room has a contingency plan, if nets break, if the boat runs aground…we plan. You all have over 30,000 rigs in the Gulf, and you are telling me that never once did you all develop a plan?” Waiting for an answer, the room remained silent except for the movement of heads nodding in agreement. “Just because we talk funny doesn’t mean we are ignorant!”
More fishermen stood up asking questions and getting the same answers, that they should make a claim, that BP was sorry, and that the disbursement was safe. However, before I left I heard one thing that remained with me as I walked out into the hot humid night, one man stood up and asked, “You use Dawn detergent on the animals, to clean up all your oil off them, why not use something like that on the oil?” The BP representative nodded, “We do, it is like a detergent, the disbursement.” In the back ground, the Coast Guard Captain and NOAA woman turned to each other and both said almost in unison, “Yea, toxic detergent.”