Originally posted on September 23, 2012. View the original post here.
That news reminded me of a story back in May 2010, just weeks into the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The first patches of sticky oil had begun to reach the coast, and the world’s media was flashing pictures of men in hazmat suits scooping the toxic black goo or collecting dead fish and oiled pelicans.
“I think we’re looking at many months of intense activity, but then years of follow-up work. I’ve been told by the ocean experts this stuff could hang out there on the bottom of the Gulf for more than 100 years. And as long as it’s out there, it can come ashore.
“We might not see big black waves, but we may be seeing a smaller, but serious problem, for years and years to come.”
There was a lot of pushback on those statements from the oil industry and its supporters, many of whom are in state government. Most people remember the odd spectacle of our politicians demanding the coast be repaired at the same time they were throwing President Obama under the bus for his temporary drilling moratorium. They made that timeout for safety sound like a bigger disaster than the spill. You probably remember the claims: economic ruin for the state, a wholesale exodus of drilling rigs from the Gulf.
Well, here we are two years later, and the oil industry now has more rigs drilling in the Gulf than it did before Deepwater Horizon. And oil industry profits continue to be world-wide leaders, high enough that the sector could afford to spend $71.2 million lobbying congress so far this year, adding to the $1.2 billion it has spent since 1998. And its view of Obama’s effort to prevent another disaster can be reflected in its contributions during the presidential campaign: Mitt Romney has received $4.5 million, Obama $1.5 million. (All those figures are from OpenSecrets.org)
But while the oil industry has recovered quickly and quite nicely from the disaster it caused, our coastal wetlands — the ecosystem that makes living here not just enjoyable but possible — still suffers from that assault, as Hurricane Isaac made quite clear.
Barham said the clean-up crews told him the job of collecting this latest wave of BP’s oil would take about a month. Even then, the long stretch of coast valuable to the fishing industry would still not be reopened. It must first pass federal muster.
“The protocol we’ve agreed to with the Food and Drug Administration is that when oil resurfaces in an area, we keep it closed until there are no visible signs of oil left Ñ however long that takes,” Barham said. “During that time, we’re collecting samples of seafood and having (analysis done) on tissue to check for any contamination.
“There’s never been any sign of (contamination causing) human health issues, and we don’t expect any.”
Of course, Barham knows better than most that this isn’t the last time he’ll be explaining the protocol.
The lesson of this episode: If the local fishing industry — including commercial seafood dealers having trouble getting America to accept the safety of their products — are shocked at the site of more oil from that one spill still popping up, causing closures and generating negative headlines around the nation, experts on oil spills and the coastal ecosystem have some advice: Get used to it.
Oil spills may result in only temporary disruption to the company and industries that cause them, but they are permanent injuries for the rest of us.