By Raleigh Keagan, LABB Member Action Associate
This past week, members of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) staff attended a conference addressing the Impacts of Environmental Disasters on Vulnerable Populations, held at Dillard University. While the title of the conference suggests a discussion of numerous different disasters that affect marginalized and disenfranchised communities, I was a little surprised to find the topic of the seminar to solely be the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred nearly two years ago.
The incident is one of epic proportions, and should not be stricken from our memory. However, I believe that exclusively focusing on this one event is almost counterproductive. By pouring all of our attention and efforts into the 2010 spill, energy is taken away from working to stop the everyday accidents that are still occurring.
Many of the presentations at the conference were reports of scientific studies, laden with data from testing and research. There was mention of one or two social surveys and studies, but it seemed as if their end goal was not very productive. They were not offering healthcare, or other services, but rather just studying the affected populations like lab rats. They asked questions such as, “Did the spill negatively affect your mental or physical health?” It is my belief that these types of studies are perfunctory, offering no real data (besides the obvious), and wasting large sums of money that could be put towards recovery. I feel for these affected populations all over again. Not only were they severely impacted directly by the spill, but now they will be poked, prodded and studied for years to come.
Much of the research also seemed to have a specific frame or directive. Many of the studies did not disclose their sample sizes, and there were obvious discrepancies between findings and daily activities. For example, the average gulf resident consumes more seafood than the average US citizen, but the toxicology studies still went off of the average rate. The data reported the minimum consumption levels that were safe in reference to the amount of contaminants, not in reference to actual consumption.
I admit it is easy to be weary of reports and studies, especially when they are partially funded by the company that caused the disaster in the first place. But I am not simply knocking all of the research that is being done. This is important baseline data, even if it is not completely accurate. For what research ever really is? My main criticism with the conference was the narrow minded focus on one incident, one event.
We should be learning from our mistakes, and readily applying them to everyday occurrences. We should be gathering continuous data on spills and accidents (such as LABB’s Refinery Accident Database), and holding industry accountable on a daily basis, rather than waiting for a massive disaster to incite action. Otherwise, we are once again repeating our mistakes. We need to keep a running pace with industry, rather than lagging behind and continuing to point to a single event.
Yes, the Deepwater Horizon spill was catastrophic; but if we keep our heads turned to the past, we will miss the corners they are still cutting today. We may even miss the opportunity to prevent something similar in the near future. Please don’t forget, but please also remember that the industry and oil production has not slowed; extraction has actually increased in the gulf since the spill. We need to keep our eyes on the industry, making sure they are accountable for their current, future, and past actions.