Six Months Later: BP’s Oil Spill Still Stains

It has been six months since the height of public outrage about the Deep Horizon catastrophe and ensuing oil spill. Periodically, news bubbles up about potential lawsuits against BP and partners, but for the most part, the media has moved on to more current pastures. Meanwhile the damage left behind still ravages the Gulf Coast environs and economy.

Earlier this month, ABC News reported on University of Georgia’s Samantha Joye’s findings that Deep Horizon oil carpets the Gulf of Mexico floor. At 5,000 feet below the surface there appears to be an 80-square mile kill zone. “It looks like everything’s dead,” Samantha Joye said.

Meanwhile economic relief efforts seem to be hitting some walls. While tourist centric business like casinos located far away from Gulf shores are getting Gulf Coast Claims approved by the government, fishermen are being denied after one of the worst shrimping seasons every recorded. These fisherman fall into four classes:

  • Small vocal number who have presented Feinberg with strong documentation.
  • A much larger group that has been paid, but far less than their emergency claims called for.
  • Another group of more than 30,000 claimants, led by an organized Vietnamese contingent in Louisiana.
  • Thousands who can’t produce enough documentation to satisfy the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

The government dismisses these as suspect or fraudulent. Somewhere in between lies the truth. And on the interwebs, the BP PR machine continues.

No one asked BP to negligently contract and manage the operation of the oil Deep Horizon rig and its ensuing damage. Regardless of how the government and BP spin it, Americans, and the global environment will suffer for years to come.

2010 will go down as one of the worst years ever for environmental disasters. And BP’s negligent actions before and after the oil spill will go down as the largest lump of coal in the lot. The novelty of this has not been matched by the actions necessary to reverse the affects of manmade climate change. In fact, at least in the United States, environmental regulation seems to be moving backwards. Again, action to change falls to the individual.

If you would like to take action to help the fishing families of New Orleans, please consider Citizen Effect’s CitizenGulf project. Money goes to provide fishing children after school education programs.

The Gulf Needs More Than BP/Obama Oil Spill Recovery Efforts

Our Citizens Effect Gulf Mission (full team reports here) meetings with nonprofits over the past few days wrapped up. Beyond the incredible environmental damage dealt to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s apparent that an equally damaging blow has been dealt to the fishing communities of the Gulf. As we have learned from the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, the Catholic Charities of New Orleans and others, the vast impact on the Louisiana economy and its cultural way of life have been drastically underestimated by the Obama Administration and BP as reported by the media.

Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board estimates the problem to be a $100-$200 billion economic calamity (see above video). But because of the ongoing PR and legal culpability that’s being fought between the Obama Administration and BP, Gulf states are floundering.

A national disaster has taken place, but we see no FEMA, no disaster relief, no long-term aid. Ships that can remove 85% of the oil are turned away by the EPA, and foreign help is turned away, too, again thanks to federal regulation.

Instead, a $20 billion pledge from BP is supposed to cover it. Culpable, yes. Capable of addressing the widespread calamity resulting from the oil spill? No. The Gulf may be irreparably harmed by not only the oil spill, but by our reaction to it; namely, the Obama Administration’s failure to declare the oil spill a national disaster, and the general U.S. societal turning our backs on this issue and expecting BP to pay for it.

My fellow Citizen Effect Gulf Mission goer and leader Dan Morrison painted an interesting view of it: “The more I learn on the trip, the more it becomes clear that BP can’t and won’t solve this economic disaster. The economic and social problems facing fishing communities due to the oil disaster are local problems that need local solutions. Put it another way: there is no one large top down solution and program that can address this problem). While it is hard for the country to see the impact of the oil spill on fishing families (they are not covered in oil like birds), the stories about how a families livelihood and way of life are endangered are real and tangible.”

The Unfathomable Depth of the Issue

Tony Martinez, owner, Breton Sound Marina

BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program has 2100 vessels signed up, but only 500 working. These guys are not working, and their deckhands are not working. Tony Martinez, owner of the Breton Sound Marina (above) corroborated this. On our trip east yesterday, we heard similar reports from the son of a Vietnamese Fisherman in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Those are the commercial fishermen. Consider the unlicensed ones who harvest fish on a cash basis, the deckhands for these people, as well as those commercial fishermen who may not report all of their income.

These folks cannot get money from BP or the Obama Administration because they don’t have IRS reports. In essence, because they haven’t played by the system, they will be crushed by it. They are out of luck, and at the mercy of nonprofits serving the region like Catholic Charities of New Orleans, Second Harvest and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

Willie, the Fisherman

The losses will be just staggering for the fishing community. But it extends beyond Gulf seafood. Restaurants and tourism are hurt in all affected states. There’s also Louisiana’s other big industry: Oil. Regardless of the politics behind the moratorium, you are talking 100,000 jobs dedicated to the Louisiana oil industry. Consider job losses of 150,000 people in a region already hit by Katrina and in a recession.

FriendsoftheFisherman.org was a fund started by the Lousiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board to help the commercially licensed fishing families affected. It has four corporate partners Entergy, Rouser’s, The New Orleans Hornets, Abita beer have started it. The Board’s goal is to raise $100 million in total money. Further the Board’s LouisianaSeafoodNews.com shows real stories of fisherman.

Empty Boats

But what about the non-commercial licensed fisherman and the deckhands? In addition to the on-the-ground fantastic work of the Catholic Charities and their partners HorizonRelief.org has been set up by Kevin Voissin, eighth generation oyster fisherman. He is taking oil and selling it in vials. Yet Voissin’s work will not be enough to resolve the long-term crisis facing the fishing culture in the Gulf.

A Way of Life Crushed?

Kerry, the Sixth Generation Fisherman II

As discussed in my Plight of the Fishing Family post earlier this week, this reaches far beyond money. We are talking about the possible destruction and ending of a culture.

Gulf fishing communities in the United States have gone back generation upon generation. It’s been the subject of movies (Forest Gump comes to mind) and has even inspired unique fashion and phrases like “down on the bayou.”

The cultural impact of taking away a profession for more than year — let’s be frank here, the overall devastation on the fishing industry will go well beyond 2010 — cannot be underestimated. While the environmental damage the wetlands has been sustaining over time may have accomplished the same result in 30 or 40 years, the sudden end via the Deep Horizon disaster breaks your heart.

Kerry (pictured above and see his story here), a sixth generation fisherman said it best to me: “My father always told me this business was a dying one. But no one imagined it would happen like this.”

What is the answer? Just as we know gulf fishing may have ended, most fishing families aren’t ready to give up yet. Getting them to suddenly become educated or get new vocations — in an ongoing long-term recession — will take more than recognition of the issue. It will take a nationally supported, yet locally driven, community wide solution.

Gulf Photo Essays – Oil Angels & Signs of Grand Isle

Here are my first two CNN iReport photo essays from the Citizen Effect Gulf Mission to help Gulf Fishermen. The first is Oil Angels, featuring the faces of the fishing families and nonprofits trying to serve them…

The second photo essay is Signs of Grand Isle, featuring protest signs showing the damage the oil spill has caused, including protests from local citizens.

Enjoy! And keep following us at the Citizen Effect Gulf Mission program page.

The Plight of the Louisiana Fishing Family

Dream Is Gone

The Citizen Effect Gulf Mission team sat down yesterday with Natalie A. Jayroe, president and CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans (serving 23 south Louisiana parishes). Our ongoing goal remains finding an actionable way for Americans to take positive mindful ways to act in the wake of the Deep Horizon disaster.

Jayroe told us her view of how the fishing families of Louisiana have been affected by the oil spill. The following post is based from that conversation.

An area the size of Great Britain was devastated with Katrina. The entire region had to rebuild, and nonprofits and community realigned themselves to rethink New Orleans. Five years after Katrina they are seeing another devastating disaster, and, it’s been very tough on many fishing families. in once case, a fisher committed suicide.

There is nothing finite right now on how to handle the post oil spill economy. One step forward has yet to be determined. There are 49,000 Louisianans that have fishing licenses, and in all 150,000 people are affected immediately. The oil drilling moratorium has put another 40,000 people out of work.

The secondary and tertiary circles of job loss have yet to be felt in the Gulf. The ripple effect could be huge. The local economy is tourism and oil, so both of the big economic drivers of the state have been challenged.

Fishing is an up and down business. The fishing families of Louisiana are traditional and self sufficient, and do not gladly take government benefits. Fishing families take advantage of federal benefits at a rate 10-20% lower than the rest of the state. They don’t accept help readily. They don’t like case work. They just want to go back to work.

How The Hell Are We Supposed Feed Our Kids Now

Five or six generations of fishing families live by the tides. When this is taken away from them, there is little chance to take on a new career.

Their next job opportunity is often oil rigs. So they are less likely to take swipes at BP, it’s a huge part of their economy.

The fishing families think about how they are going to get through this today and tomorrow. Most of them are still trying to keep the oil off the shores. They liken it to fighting a war, and hope they will be able to shrimp next year. If there’s a way to survive they will do it. They are about subsistence and survival, and they will what they have to live with the land.

To create that next generation of sustenance income would require the community to take on a lot of education work. You would need to do a lot of front line activity with the community to evolve. They would need to band together. Given the fiercely independent culture of the fishing families here, it’s a dubious outcome…

The environmental impact from the oil spill will likely be felt for decades, stifling the marine life and fishing industry. The BP Deep Horizon oil spill may have permanently devastated this fishing culture.

Long Term Impact for Second Harvest

Second Harvest knows this issue will continue a long time after the oil spill is capped. It could take years. The organization estimates that more than 47,500 fishing homes may eventually require food assistance as a result of the Gulf oil spill.

Because it’s not a national disaster declared by the President, federal food commodities (via disaster SNAP) can’t be given out.Fact Check: Louisiana Department of Social Services. If Obama declares the oil spill a National Disaster, BP would no longer be liable. The bailout fund is not necessarily going to benefit the Gulf directly. That means disaster resources are not making it to the Louisiana parishes today.

The organization has already provided 200,000 meals through disaster relief sites in the impacted areas since May 1. The demand is making a direct impact on Second Harvest’s stores before hurricane season, stretching their resources. BP has paid the organization $350,000 to replace these recources.

Second Harvest Food bank became the largest foodbank in history following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The foodbank distributed 8 million pounds of food in September 2005 alone.

Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.

What to Expect on Our Gulf Mission

What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? – Jim Morrison, When the Music Is Over

20100618-tedx-oil-spill-1193

Images by Kris Krug from his TedX OilSpill Expedition set.

The time is almost upon us for our well-discussed Gulf Mission. Thank you all for your support. Together, I will work with Citizen Effect’s Dan Morrison and May Yu to find an actionable, tangible way for people across the country to help those suffering as a result of the ongoing Deep Horizon oil spill.

We have a clear goal: Work with local charities and people to find a way to help Gulf fishermen who have likely lost their careers, their tradition. How will be determined on the trip. We already have meetings set with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board; the Greater New Orleans Foundation; Catholic Charities, including site visits to constituents of America’s Second Harvest, the Archdiocese, fishermen; and with Sloane Berrent, who is organizing a nationwide Gulf Coast Benefit concert event on July 1.

Along the way we have committed to a full citizen journalist effort. What does that mean? We will be blogging, tweeting, photographing, sending mini live podcast reports, etc. throughout our days from the Gulf. We already have several commitments to distribute that content beyond our blogs and social media properties.

You can tell which boats are returning from the Gulf

But it’s more than just on the scene reporting, it’s an attitude: We will ask hard questions. When it comes to our government and BP, we will not assume they are doing the right thing. In fact, evidence shows that they continue to stumble, with atrocities like burning endangered turtles to death rather than rescuing them.

We will tell real people’s stories. We will show their faces, and we will listen to them and show their viewpoint. And we will highlight those special angels on the frontlines fighting to protect the Gulf and the people most afflicted by this tragedy.

It’s with an attitude of service that we fly to New Orleans on Sunday. I hope you’ll join us for this journey.

You Killed Our Gulf... Our Way of Life