An offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana exploded four years ago this month, killing 11 on the crew and spilling five million barrels of hydrocarbons into waters known for their seafood production.
That explosion on the British Petroleum (BP) off-shore oil well known as the Deepwater Horizon is now down in the history books. It dumped 15 times more oil into the Gulf than did the infamous Exxon Valdez did to Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Among its many facets, the BP oil spill was a food safety story for the immediate risk it poised to both the shell and finfish that come from those warm Gulf waters. An area of the Gulf as big as Minnesota was closed to both commercial and recreational fishing when the risk was at its worst.
The BP oil was gushing only a few days when Food Safety News sent our own people down there to make sure the seafood safety story did not get lost in everything else that was going on. Disasters are weird opportunities. Within days, we were on fishing boats, processing plants, laboratories and places that were literally getting their economies knocked out from under them. People were helpful and they talked freely. It’s something you always remember.
More than most, we keep an eye and ear on the Gulf. It’s been a couple years since BP paid for all those TV ads saying that everything was fine and that we could move on. We all remember seeing the returning crowds of tourists hooting it up on the Gulf. But four years later, it is not fine. We were impressed with the succinct status report provided by David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the Natonal Audubon Society.
“BP has agreed to pay reparation to families of the men who died in the explosion, it has paid off some of the businesses and individuals for some of their economic loss, and it paid for the immediate cleanup of the visible oil spilled, as it was required to do under U.S. law. It pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts ranging from lying to felony manslaughter.
“But BP has not contributed a dime to the largest violation ever of the Clean Water Act, the money most vital to environmental reparations.”
With an $18 billion judgment against BP on the line for damaging the “birds, wildlife, sea creatures and the people who depend on it (the Gulf) —“ again Mr. Yarnold’s words— BP will drag out the federal litigation for two more years.
Gulf residents feared from the beginning that the rest of the country would mix up the cleanup with the dire need for environmental restoration. Those BP-funded TV commercials may have helped get tourists back, but they also left a false impression that the Gulf was truly back. It is not. The year before the BP oil disaster, Louisiana produced 14 million pounds of oyster meat: an amount representing about 65 percent of U.S. production. Since the spill, Pelican State oyster production has been decimated.
Oysters took a triple hit from the gushing oil, the dispersants used by BP to knock it down, and finally from the releases of Mississippi River water used to reduce oil making it to the shoreline. Louisiana’s public oyster areas are devastated, with either nothing there or with oysters that die off before they get to market size. Restoration efforts have been either non-existent or too small.
The big stick is supposed to be the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, set up by Congress with the five Gulf states and six federal agencies as members. But what could be the most significant environmental restoration the planet has ever seen remains just plans on paper.
There is no money to fix the ecosystem and there won’t be until BP pays up. Four years into the disaster, that’s the story.© Food Safety News