By Cherri Foytlin, Bridge the Gulf
According to a report published last month, BP's oil will be fouling up the Gulf sea bed for "decades." The study, which has been described as "the first large scale examination of the impact of the [Gulf] soft bottom," was led by Dr. Paul Montagna, professor of ecosystems and modeling at the Harte Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M.
According to Montagna, those plumes that BP had proclaimed a fairytale back in May of 2010 caused some very real devastation to a 57 square-mile area of the Gulf's deep sea ecosystem, as well as to the life forms dependent upon it.
The study prompted a quick response by BP, who immediately issued a press release stating, "The paper provides no data to support a claim that it could take decades for these deep sea species to recover. In fact, the researchers acknowledge that little is known about recovery rates of these communities following an event such as this."
That acknowledgment must have been missed by BP and the director of their now dismantled Gulf Coast Claims Facility, Kenneth Feinberg. Back in 2011, as a federal judge was demanding Feinberg be honest about his non-independent relationship with the oil giant, both he and BP were publicly proclaiming that the Gulf would recover in three years. In fact, it was through their citing of previous scientific studies and data, that "full recovery in 2012" became the basis for the formula that they used to distribute payouts to effected fishing families.
But this pick-and-choose science is nothing new for BP. Since the disaster began, the corporation has been steadily refuting reality -- from the size and volume of the deep sea gusher to the legitimacy of the recent claims process. BP's corporate cookie cutter denial of the true effects of the disaster is only one part of the problem. Ultimately it's the lack of value given to the voices of the affected communities in the wake of this catastrophe that should give alarm.
Simply look back through the archives of blogs written by Bridge the Gulf's contributors (especially those by fisherfolk like Eugene Hickman, Joey Yerkes, and Kindra Arnesen) and an image of the continuing devastation to Gulf Coast ecosystem, families and fisherfolk quickly emerges, and provides testimony to this study's findings, as well as those yet to be revealed.
In other words, the Gulf waters have been injured by BP -- well, duh. Our fisher families have been saying that for three years now, yet this strong anecdotal evidence by affected community members has been largely ignored and discounted.
Why? Why does it take an expensive study to give an ounce of legitimacy to residents who live on or visit these waters every single day? As direct stakeholders in the outcome of this disaster, doesn't the Gulf Coast citizenry have the right to report and define our experiences, and to be valued with equal vigor as any scientist living hundreds of miles away?
This problem of ignoring the voices of communities affected, both in testimony and response, seems to be a repeating issue in the government's approach to the aftermath of cataclysmic events. How many times did the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast scream in silence regarding the needs of their communities in the days, months and years following Katrina and Rita?
What about those still recovering from the bitumen spill near Kalamazoo, Michigan or Mayflower, Arkansas? Yet often these citizens are treated more like "kooks" than as knowledgeable and pivotal players in their own recovery. Race and class also play a part in how much voice a community is allowed to have in their own recovery.
Being forced into the role of spectator to our own healing our communities are placed firmly into a framework of government and/or corporate dependency. Blocked from the feelings of self-efficacy that are necessary for recovery, our communities then see higher rates of domestic violence, depression and a host of other long term social traumas.
Also, we must realize that in regards to oil and chemical industry-induced disasters, our government has become habitual in its handing of control and outcomes to the very corporations responsible. As we have seen in the cases of disasters attributed to BP, Exxon, Chevron, Dow Chemical and others, they have been given the responsibility to report and assess the situation, decide the remedy, define the effects, and to play an active role in deciding how and when they would make amends. Often, this sort of back seat driving by governmental agencies has left the victims of these corporations to feel re-assaulted by their perpetrator.
But it is not up to just the government and liable party to carry the burden and responsibility of amplifying the victims of these disasters. Let's be honest, BP was a shot in the arm to the environmental movement. Once again the Gulf Coast stood as an example of the life-stealing, community-shattering, ecosystem-destroying tragedy imposed by the irresponsible corporate greed and "personhood" of, this time, big oil. The images of a burning rig, oiled pelicans, burned-alive turtles, dispersant spraying planes, rash covered children, and crying fishermen gave a short, and much needed, wake-up call to the global collective conscious.
And although, through a multimillion dollar advertising campaign (and a "mission accomplished" wrap-up by the Obama administration), BP has been able to repeatedly hit the snooze button on that alarm, it is up to all areas of the environmental, climate and environmental justice movements to continually reawaken the public to the truth of the ongoing human and ecological consequences of this and other man-made disasters around the world, including climate change itself.
It is in the amplification of these and other grassroots voices that we find opportunity for understanding the true cost of our addictions. This traction-lending truth is undoubtedly necessary to achieve the lofty and life-saving goals before us.
We must not allow BP, or any such future antagonists, to steal from humanity the chance to evolve in consciousness, to reclaim and reconnect to the responsibility of our generations, or to participate in the collective decision of what we are to value and who we will choose to be.
In the meantime, the Gulf Coast's ecosystem, citizens and communities still suffering economic, health and social hardships from the 2010 BP Deepwater Drilling Disaster will be waiting on pins and needles for the next study to be published, only to reveal what we already knew and said.
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Cherri Foytlin is a journalist, speaker, mother of six and wife of an oil worker who lives in south Louisiana. She is the author of "Spill It! The Truth About the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion," and regularly contributes to www.BridgetheGulfProject.org, the Huffington Post, and several local newspapers.