What is a body without a sharp mind but a numb lifeless mass?
Although in appearance the Gulf of Mexico is still there, the fourth anniversary of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill reveals a different reality. The Gulf as a whole has lost much of its engine of life. Perhaps it is fair to say it was stolen from it, and that no power structure in which citizens vest authority, public or private, has done a darn thing to return the Gulf to its original, sharp state.
It is not hard to figure out how the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem went from being one of the richest, full of life places in the world, to becoming a numb lifeless body. It is not difficult to understand why the flora, fauna and people who once called the Gulf home are now extremely sick or dead.
Insect populations and animals dying in record numbers, other wildlife struggling and the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is still polluting and causing disease and death over an area that extends around the south east of the United States, with direct and indirect serious impacts to neighboring areas and species.
In spite of BP’s so-called commitment to the Gulf, and even though many people believe the effects of the oil spill have largely been dealt with, news from the Gulf says otherwise.
According to ArbiterNews.com, four years after one of largest man-made disasters in modern history, the Gulf still awaits its restoration. A report by the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, an organization that continuously monitors the damage caused by the BP oil spill, hundreds of Dolphins, Brown Pelicans, Sea turtles and fish such as Tuna, Red Snapper and Mahi Mahi are some of the continuous victims of the pollution caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
To the wildlife above, the NWF adds coral, oysters, whales and numerous species of birds as some of the most affected Gulf dwellers. “There remains a significant need for additional research into all of these species—and others not covered in this report. It will be years, perhaps decades, before we truly understand the impacts to all Gulf wildlife. It is imperative to take action now to further restoration and recovery of the Gulf ecosystem,” concludes the NWF in its latest report.
The NWF points out the need for funding in order to carry out the studies that provide better information on the scale of the impact caused by the BP oil spill, which could come from criminal and civil settlements. The amount of money needed to begin restoring the Gulf of Mexico is still unknown, but it is estimated that funding from fees paid by those responsible for the spill could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.
Among the recommendations issued by the NWF to restore the Gulf are:
1. Federal, state and local officials must commit funds from Clean Water Act fines in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster to ecological restoration, thereby making the Gulf healthier and more resilient for people and wildlife.
2. The Department of Justice must hold parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon spill fully accountable for gross negligence and willful misconduct in violation of federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act.
3. Final settlement of claims must include a “reopener clause” to hold responsible parties accountable for future damages that may occur but are not yet known, as the Oil Pollution Act requires full compensation for all natural resource damages.
4. Congress and the Administration must reform oil and gas leasing practices and permitting requirements to better safeguard people, communities, wildlife and the environment.
Given those recommendations, a question that many people ask is how can authorities begin to assess the cost of a disaster whose magnitude is still undetermined? According to the NWF:
Will the restoration come in time to save the Gulf?
The last four years have shown how exactly a man-made disaster can go from bad to worse due to inaction. While most people discuss potential ways to fix the damage caused by the BP oil spill, many already ask whether the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico can actually occur, and, should such restoration begin, whether it can actually save its ecosystems.
It is not hard to doubt whether the Gulf can actually be saved as animal species are dying in record numbers. In the Louisiana Marshlands, insect populations have been disappearing in record numbers, according to Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui. Ms. Hooper-Bui has been studying the impact of the BP oil spill on insects and spiders from the start of the oil spill disaster.
“Insects are the basis of the food chain. They are like nature’s Twinkies,” Ms. Hooper-Bui says. Besides taking samples of soil, air and water, she also catches some insects present in the wild to study their bodies’ composition. Ms. Hooper-Bui has determined that along with species of birds and fish, insect populations have also been dying in significant numbers. According to her observations, oil that still remains in the environment pollutes land, water and air with chemicals like volatiles naphthalene and methylnaphthalene.
The oil that was not cleaned up gets moved from place to place through sea currents, storms and other natural phenomena. After being exposed to solar radiation, volatile compounds in the oil evaporate and contaminate the air and in doing so deplete the flora and poison wildlife that depend on an already decimated ecosystem. “Insects are important to study because they are the basis of the food chain,” says Hooper-Bui, who asserts that “there is a big problem when they start dying.”
Reports such as the one from the NWF and observations from independent scientists in the Gulf, have found increased levels of “toxic oil compounds” in blood samples taken from other wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. Analysis of those samples identified metals like chromium and nickel, which were used in the Deepwater Horizon oil well. Tissue samples from embryos of blue fin and yellow fin tuna have been found to be contaminated with chemicals that researchers associate with premature death.
The effects of the BP oil spill have been force multipliers in the destruction of the environment. Since April 20, 2010, conservative estimates account for at least 200 million gallons of oil that spread all over the Gulf. Meanwhile, British Petroleum (BP), despite its public pro-environment stunts, has discarded independent study after independent study on the impacts caused by the oil spill that killed 11 workers and that continues to sicken hundreds of thousands of people all over the Gulf of Mexico. While accusing those who point the damage as cherry pickers, BP’s public relations team members are cherry pickers themselves when alleging that the Gulf is experiencing “a strong recovery”. BP also denies that the oil spill has affected fish populations in the Gulf while citing reports that seem favorable to their cause.
The Disaster continues. It is there to see.
None of the parties involved in the process of estimating the damage caused by the BP oil spill has risked taking a guess at the real impact caused by the disaster. It seems that despite efforts from brave individuals, community organizations and some government agencies, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues killing wildlife and more importantly, human lives. Believe it or not, the health impacts of the oil spill have been left aside by many, perhaps due to the fact that humans depend on natural ecosystems to survive and so more attention has been given to the negative impacts suffered by flora and fauna.
Scientists who visit the Gulf of Mexico area, have found that due to chemical exposure, people in the Gulf are the victims of Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance. The lack of resistance to commonly found chemicals appears to have been triggered by a continuous exposure to highly toxic dispersants used in the alleged clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico. Among those dispersants there is of course Corexit. Scientists believe that more susceptible people in the Gulf region -a growing minority, it appears- who were exposed to petrochemicals and dispersants filled with synthetic organic chemicals, are now being diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Fishermen, cleanup workers, volunteers and locals are victims not only of the stress caused by a man-made disaster of the magnitude of the BP oil spill, but also of the physical poisoning of their bodies. “Thousands of Gulf War veterans have been sick and undiagnosed for more than a decade as doctors search for answers. No one can convincingly explain their diverse, multi-system symptoms, which include pain, fatigue, mood changes and cognitive impairment–symptoms also reported by many of those exposed during the Gulf Coast spill,” reports the Huffington Post.
The problem in the Gulf is that the region has not been properly decontaminated, which makes it difficult to begin treating people who are sick due to exposure to Corexit and other chemicals. People will not be able to be treated and hopefully cured as long as chemicals are still in the air, water and land in the Gulf region. Attempting to treat or cure people in the Gulf without cleaning it up first, would be like helping a cancer patient recover before treating the cancer itself.
While in the water dolphins and turtles are found dead or suffering anemia, on land, Gulf residents are suffering from cancer and skin conditions never seen before. According to a report by RT, human and animal tissue show significant damage to DNA at levels that have not been found anywhere else in the world.
A new report issued by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), reveals that up until today, the Gulf region is still covered with oil spill residues which are contaminated with flesh eating bacteria. It is not necessary to dive to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico to see that the BP oil spill is still ongoing. Fresh oil residue is found along the coastline on a daily basis by local residents, tourists as well as independent and local government researchers. According to the FDEP report, oil tar balls are found anywhere from Alabama to Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas.
In a report published by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Florida appears as the state with more oil spill damage claims in the whole Gulf region. “Florida claims total 82,818, or 30 percent of the claims filed under the oil spill class-action settlement, according to a March 31 report from Patrick Juneau, the court-appointed claims administrator. Nearly 260,000 claims have been filed,” says the report. In total, BP has paid more money for economic damage in the state than for any other reason. Some 5,600 claims resulted in about $900 million.
Although the payment of claims for economic damages has reached nearly $1 billion, the real crisis is not economic. Residents of the Gulf of Mexico are continuously found to be sick due to exposure to invisible chemicals. Coughing blood and having trouble to breath are a normal outcome of living near the coastline. According to medical records gathered by local media, people in the Gulf show symptoms of general poisoning due to exposure to toxic chemical contained in oil dispersants. Despite knowing Corexit’s toxic components, authorities allowed and even mandated that BP used the chemical dispersant to “clean up the oil spill”.
Toxicologists who have studied human blood samples now accuse BP and the EPA of putting people in danger by allowing the use of chemicals whose harmful effects were previously known. “BP told the public that Corexit was ‘as harmless as Dawn dishwashing liquid’,” Dr Susan Shaw, of the State University of New York, told Al Jazeera. “But BP and the EPA clearly knew about the toxicity of the Corexit dispersants long before this spill.”
“Five of the Corexit ingredients are linked to cancer, 33 are associated with skin irritation from rashes to burns, 33 are linked to eye irritation, 11 are or are suspected of being potential respiratory toxins or irritants, and 10 are suspected kidney toxins,” she said. Shaw says that BP also knew about the negative effects that Corexit would have on anything exposed to it because chemicals in Corexit are human carcinogens. “We predicted with certainty the widespread human health crisis we are seeing in the Gulf today,” Shaw added.
Since both the EPA and BP knew about the health threat that Corexit represented to the flora, fauna and humans in the Gulf region, it is difficult to think of a good reason why they agreed to use it. In fact, not only did they know about Corexit’s toxicity, but they also knew about the deadlier consequences of combining the dispersant with oil coming from the Macondo well. “The combination of crude oil and Corexit is exponentially more toxic than either alone, since they contain many ingredients that target the same organs in the body,” said Shaw.
“We’re seeing spontaneous miscarriages, and cancer is rampant,” explained Trisha Springstead, a nurse with 36 years of experience. “These are occurring in Orange Beach, Alabama, and all over Mississippi and Alabama…women are not carrying to term.” Ms. Springstead, who has been living in Crystal River, Florida for a good part of her life has personally seen the effects that the BP oil spill have had on local residents. That is why she is involved in raising funds for Gulf residents who are extremely sick as a consequence of exposure to toxic chemicals in the Gulf of Mexico, but who have no funding to seek treatment. She’s is one of many volunteers who is raising awareness and money to help Matt Smith, a victim of adrenal cancer.
Matt Smith, a 26 year old Californian, is the founder of “Project Gulf Impact”, an initiative that sought to document the impact that the BP oil spill had on the Gulf of Mexico. But while collecting evidence, Matt got caught in the middle of air spraying of Corexit. Along with Smith, a group of U.S. Navy men and women who worked in the Gulf region during the height of the oil spill disaster, have also been diagnosed with cancer and they all blame their precarious situation on their exposure to chemicals that resulted from the oil spill.
Incidentally, videos produced by independent journalists and ‘gulf warriors’ that helped document the serious health crisis in the Gulf region, have been mysteriously taken down from YouTube and other online video platforms.
BP’s move to silence critics and Gulf of Mexico residents
Although in public British Petroleum appears to be very interested in correcting its sins in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, in private the company has done exactly the opposite. BP’s tools to keep people quiet go from virtual harassment on social networks to directly attempting to bribe researchers to buy their silence about the real impact that the oil spill and the toxic chemicals used by the company have had on the environment.
In a 2013 news report, RT interviewed journalist Dahr Jamail, who explained how BP went about threatening people who posted negative comments on its Facebook page, and how scientists who had the proper permits to carry out their research were harassed by local authorities and BP representatives. Some of the scientists were prevented from accessing areas where they had studied the effects of the oil spill even though they had received credentials to access those areas.
Believe it or not, this is BP at its best, and the techniques used by the oil giant are not new. According to a report filed by journalist Greg Palast, BP’s crimes against humanity began 25 years ago along the Alaskan coastline.
Believe it or not, BP has now been cleared to continue drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. In a show of unprecedented disregard for public safety, the Obama administration granted BP permission to carry on in their search for oil in the Gulf region, even though the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster has not been determined yet.
According to Mr. Palast, BP got away with some of the same fraudulent practices in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, where it was not held accountable for its role in what back then was perhaps the biggest oil spill disaster in the history of North America. Palast’s investigation into BP’s modus operandi have rendered pages over pages of evidence that show “BP’s decades-long pattern of lies, bribes and cover-ups that led, inexorably, to the Deepwater Horizon blowout—and that continue today within BP’s worldwide oil operations,” says the author.
Mr. Palast has gathered his evidence on a book he titled “Vulture’s Picnic“, in which he tells the story of BP’s role in the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters. Palast says that BP’s faults include failing to properly clean-up the oil spilled before it reached the coastline, not having the proper crew to handle the clean-up process, even though it had promised to do so under oath, lacking the proper equipment to carry out the clean-up, covering up failures, attempting to bribe people and issuing threats to those who dared to speak.
In his reporting, Mr. Palast tells the story of Captain James Woodle, a former BP Commander at the Port of Valdez, who after warning about the “reduction in manning, age of equipment, limited training and lack of personnel, serious doubt exists that [we] would be able to contain and clean up effectively a medium or large size oil spill.” Instead of solving the issues reported by Woodle, BP decided to threaten him “with a file on his marital infidelities (fabricated), fired him, then forced him to destroy his files,” says Palast.
BP not only got off easy from any responsibility for its role in the destruction of the environment after the Exxon-Valdez disaster in Alaska, but it also got away without paying a pretty penny to the locals. The $125 million the company paid to natives and fishermen, among others, was all covered by insurance. According to Palast, BP’s representatives related to him the “systematic bribery of presidents and their minions in the new Caspian Sea oil states.” While in London, he discovered that in 2010 “the National Security Agency acknowledged that it had authorized the bribes.”
Palast’s film “Vultures and Vote Rustlers” expands on BP’s practices.
A Final Comment
Given the current state of affairs and the historical record that BP and the oil industry as a whole have accumulated, it is hard to see how the Gulf of Mexico will be restored if it comes down to the will of BP executives and North American politicians. Alaska has not fully recovered from the Exxon-Valdez disaster after 25 years, has it?
Four years after the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig, there is a clear conclusion to take away. Neither BP’s executives nor politicians in government can be trusted to take responsibility for the largest man-made disaster in history.
While BP manages to evade its legal responsibility by silencing, bribing and threatening people who speak against its crimes, politicians reward the company by granting it new permits to drill in the Gulf before holding it accountable for the damage it caused to flora, fauna and more importantly, the people in the Gulf of Mexico.
As long as multinational companies like BP are allowed to solve their legal problems at the sound of a cash machine bell -or a wire transfer- and as long as they are permitted to get away without bearing any responsibility whatsoever for the crimes they commit against humanity, all we can do is wait for the next disaster to take place.
What is left of the Gulf of Mexico?
Pollution, disease, death and a hopeless population that will have to bear the consequences of corporate greed, unaccountability and corruption of their political institutions. What is left of the Gulf of Mexico is a dead zone that grows larger and larger with no end in sight.
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute. Read more about Luis.