Gulf Watch: BP Oil Disaster Two Year Memorial Media Roundup

Two years ago today the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, due to poor decisions made by BP and Halliburton engineers, killing 11 rig workers and spilling upwards of 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As tragic as that moment was, the tragedy continues to spread, much as the 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants spread far beyond the waters where they were targeted. Workers who were overexposed to oil during the cleanup have been crying out for two years that their health conditions have been worsening since getting involved. Gulf coast residents, tourists and workers who sniffed, inhaled or skin-absorbed the chemicals found in crude oil and dispersants have also been crying for help. Yet, these cries have largely been ignored. 


Kenneth Feinberg, administrator for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, said to Bridge the Gulf that he had “reservations about whether those claimants," who have been saying they have health problems related to the BP oil disaster, "can offer proof.” Of the over 220,000 claims paid to individuals and businesses for economic losses tied to the disaster, zero were for health claims.

Two years later, a Department of Justice investigation found that Feinberg ran his GCCF operations straight sloppy, with $64 million paid out to those who were underpaid or not paid at all. Bridge the Gulf, which launched two years ago, in the wake of the BP oil disaster, has been recording the complaints of hundreds of Gulf Coast citizens who didn't get their due from GCCF.

You can also read and hear from some of these folks in a series of interviews we did to coincide with a new report released in collaboration with the Institute for Southern Studies and Gulf Coast Fund called "Troubled Waters." In that report, we find that Gulf Coast residents are still reeling from these problems, and despite a settlement that will include millions for health problems, there still seems to be a burden of proof problem that might exclude thousands of people from benefits and reimbursments that they need.

The fact that the BP settlement acknowledged health benefits in ways that Feinberg didn't is a clear victory for Gulf Coast grassroots organizations who lobbied and fought for this. But there will be plenty of monitoring and oversight needed to make sure that those who had been excluded before will be included under the new terms. It is also a clear victory that Gulf Coast Fund advisor Derrick Evans and Texas environmental justice advocate Bryan Parras were able to get a BP shareholder to agree to come to the Gulf Coast to see what the problems are that remain. 

This, and other problems still occurring in the Gulf, finally grabbed the attention of some in the media, who've found evidence behind the grievances that Feinberg was so skeptical about. Please do read the "Troubled Waters" report and the interviews, but also check out these news stories that captured the essence of the problem two years into the BP oil disaster:

  1. Antonia Juhasz at The Nation did a deep-dive into the health crisis in the Gulf giving a picture of who might and might not be covered by the BP health settlement. Writes Juhasz,  "Many people whose health was adversely affected by the spill would be excluded. The Medical Benefits Settlement covers about 90,000 people who are qualifying cleanup workers (out of an estimated 140,000) and 110,000 coastal residents living within one-half to one mile of the coast (out of a coastal population of 21 million). Although it would cover “certain respiratory, gastrointestinal, eye, skin and neurophysiological” conditions, it excludes mental health and a host of physical ailments, including cancers, birth defects, developmental disorders and neurological disorders including dementia." She also spoke with a staffmember from the Government Accountability Project who said, “Over twenty-five whistleblowers in our investigation have reported the worst public health tragedies of any investigation in GAP’s thirty-five-year history.”  She also spoke with Charles Taylor, who detailed his health problems for Bridge the Gulf earlier this month.
  2. Common Dreams zoned in on the safety of Gulf seafood, a subject of tremendous dispute since the BP disaster started. Gulf states have been trying to market their seafood, particularly the shrimp, to the public, convincing them that it's all safe. This has been done to protect the economic viability of the markets, and BP is giving them over $50 million to continue that promotion. But the science is not certain that all seafood is safe, as Common Dreams writes, "Scientists studying the Gulf of Mexico are reporting alarming rates of deformities in marine-life, including 'horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, and eyeless crabs and shrimp'." On the same issue, Dr. Jim Cowan, with Louisiana State University's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, tells Al-Jazeera,  "I asked a NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] sampler what percentage of fish they find with sores prior to 2010, and it's one tenth of one percent, which is what we found prior to 2010 as well. But nothing like we've seen with these secondary infections and at this high of rate since the spill." You can also read about problems found with Gulf sealife in the "Troubled Waters" report. Read Bridge the Gulf's interview with Daniel Nguyen who talks about safe alternatives to fishing when the health of the waters is in question.
  3. Bridge the Gulf contributor Jordan Flaherty wrote a lengthy account of the state of the Gulf in this article in CounterPunch. Here, he brought attention to the legacy of problems with the Gulf Coast long before BP, but exacerbated by BP's oil disaster. Writes Flaherty, "It is widely agreed that environmental problems on the coast date back to long before the well blew open. The massive catastrophe brought into focus problems that have existed for a generation. Land loss caused by oil company drilling has already displaced many who lived by the coast, and the pollution from treatment plants has poisoned communities across the state – especially in 'cancer alley,' the corridor of industrial facilities along the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge." Read Bridge the Gulf's interview with documentarian Monique Verdin, whose film "Louisiana, My Love" also talks about the legacy of environmental problems harming the Gulf.
  4. Finally, check out this infographic from Colorlines (Disclosure: I'm a regular contributor to the site), which takes numbers from some of the indexes in the "Troubled Waters" report and adds some animation to it. You can hear from Cherri Foytlin about how some of the issues depicted in the infographic are affecting Gulf residents.

New Orleans-based journalist Brentin Mock is the latest addition to the Bridge the Gulf community, where he works as web editor. He joins us after working with a number of Gulf Coast-based organizations including The Lens and Ocean Conservancy, and has reported extensively on the Gulf Coast for numerous outlets including Colorlines, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Essence, and The Root.