The escalation of BP's liability
As oil, sickness and contamination persist, Gulf residents and lawyers file thousands of lawsuits against the oil giant. By Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera. "If you got caught humping another woman - [if] you're both naked and caught in the act - you'd want BP to explain to your wife how it didn't happen."
This colorful analogy was proposed by Dean Blanchard, a seafood distributor on Grand Isle, Louisiana, to explain oil giant BP's continuing machinations to evade liability in the aftermath of the April 2010 disaster.
During a recent discussion in his office, Blanchard told Al Jazeera that the fishing waters off Louisiana are only producing one per cent of the shrimp they formerly produced. "Half of the local fishermen have shut down," he stated. "They are dying. And [as] for the fishing, every day they are hauling dead porpoises in front of my place. I have a claim filed with BP, but none of us in the seafood business are being paid."
Photo: Louisiana seafood distributor Dean Blanchard, with recently found oil taken from a nearby marsh [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]
Speculating that he may soon have to close down his company, Blanchard spoke for hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents who remain angry and frustrated when he added: "I worked 30 years to establish my business, and now BP has destroyed my life."
Fallout and responsibility
In a key investigative report released on September 14, the US government heaped most of the blame for the oil disaster on BP, which now faces a raft of criminal and civil litigation and billions of dollars in potential damages.
The report concluded that BP violated federal regulations, ignored safety concerns and crucial warnings, and made careless decisions during the cementing of the well nearly two kilometres underwater.
"That report summarised what we already knew, and it will help establish the punitive damage case against the defendant [BP]," New Orleans-based attorney Stuart Smith, representing more than 1,000 cases against BP, told Al Jazeera.
Smith has been litigating against oil companies for 25 years, and in 2001 was lead counsel in a case that resulted in a $1bn verdict against ExxonMobil.
"The fastest way to lose a toxic tort case is to rely on the government or the defendant to collect the evidence," explained Smith, whose firm has spent more than $2m for its client's cases by collecting samples and data and having them analysed by experts.
As litigation against BP continues to mount, several studies have confirmed Smith and Blanchard's concerns about the deep impact of BP's oil disaster.
One recent study carried out by experts at Auburn University concluded that mats of oil that remain submerged on the seabed could pose a long-term risk to coastal ecosystems. Large quantities of tar balls and oil mats have washed ashore, or have been uncovered by recent storms, at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, as well as at several beaches in Louisiana and in Pensacola, Florida. A recent Al Jazeera over-flight of the area near BP's capped Macondo well, the origin of the April 2010 disaster, revealed a long swathe of oil and sheen.
Dr Wilma Subra, a chemist and MacArthur Fellow, has - since autumn of 2010 - been conducting tests on seafood and sediment samples along the Gulf for chemicals present in BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.
"Tests have shown significant levels of oil pollution in oysters and crabs along the Louisiana coastline," Subra told Al Jazeera. "We have also found high levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and vegetation."
In response to the question of what local, state and federal governments are doing about the ongoing chemical exposures, Subra declared: "There is a lack of concern by the government agencies and the [oil] industry. There is a leaning towards wanting to say it is all fixed and let's move on, when it is not."
Blanchard, who perceives the federal government's inadequate response to the BP disaster as evidence of its collusion with the oil giant, meanwhile joked: "We're fixing to have a fundraiser to try to buy our politicians back from BP."