One hundred days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded creating the worst environmental disaster in the world's history, those who live down along the Gulf coast in the areas that have been most impacted are standing strong and reminding the world that, while the well gushing oil may have been capped and while BP CEO Tony Hayward may be going to Siberia, the disaster is not over.
Elizabeth Cook, a Louisiana native, said she's "lived in New Orleans most of [her] life" and "when this happened, [her] sense of anger and grief moved her to begin to talk to friends about organizing some sort of people's response." She had been organizing post-Katrina on the housing issue because after the hurricane there was a real situation with lack of housing, which produced a huge homeless problem.
She connected with a group called the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster and helped organize a People's Summit that took place on June 19th. She has been organizing protests, press conferences, meetings, gathering data, creating fact sheets, and writing about the disaster in the Gulf ever since.
Cook described the current situation:
"We don't know how long the dispersant is going to remain in the water with the oil, how long it will take to break down the dispersant and/or the oil. We're not sure of the full impact on our marine life and our wildlife and also the government and BP are not forthcoming with scientific information about this. Certain areas of the Gulf have been reopened for fishing and their testing the seafood for oil but they aren't testing it for dispersants"
" We want to remind folks and make people aware this is not over. We've got 1.8 billion gallons of toxic dispersant that was dumped in the Gulf and also sprayed pretty close to shore in Barataria Bay and along the shoreline of the Gulf coast. We are continuing to see the effects of this toxic chemical. We need to be vigilant. We need to demand accountability. We need to demand remediation and bio-remediation."
Robert Desmarais, also someone who lives in New Orleans, said he's been back since the city flooded after Katrina (the federal walls broke along the canals in his neighborhood and he was unable to come back to where he lived for a while). Now that "this volcano in the Gulf" has erupted, Sullivan explains "it just hit me very hard. I'd come back to the city, redid the house, got very involved in politics and I'm [now] facing exile again. I'm angry."
For people like Desmarais, the worst-case scenario is a real possibility. Desmarais said it's "really sad to think that if something happened in this hurricane season a lot of people including me probably wouldn't want to come back to a city that had been flooded by oil as well as water. A lot of us see that [if that happened] it would be the end of the city. And, a lot of people are hurt, really hurt."
The plight of fishermen in the Gulf, as a result of the disaster, is especially disconcerting for Desmarais.
"The real crisis is along the Gulf -- Mississippi, Alabama, where my family is from. Those people fish for a living. I've had students who have left school at the age of 16 because they figured they were going to do what their father and grandfather had done. They were going to be a shrimper. They were going to be a fisherman. And, that's all they knew. That's all they wanted. They loved the life. It wasn't just a way of earning a living. And now not only do they have no means of earning a living any longer but that whole lifestyle going out in the boat in the morning, being in the water, being with friends and relatives--that's being poisoned."
Those impacted--for example, the people in the oyster industry who are having to close up shop--are going to be compensated for the economic and emotional trauma being endured. Right? Partially, at least. In full? Highly unlikely.
According to Cook, Kenneth Feinberg, the pay czar administering the BP escrow fund, is working for BP (although he claims to be independent) and saying "folks have to make a decision as to what their long term damages are going to be now and accept the payouts now."
"This is absurd. This is a contradiction because no one knows yet what the long-term damages or impacts of the toxic oil and dispersant are going to be on the livelihoods of people down here. Yet, they're being asked to make a decision now as to what kind of monetary payout to accept," said Cook. "And this is outrageous. There should be a national cry. Folks should not be put in these positions. This is unfair, unjust and criminal."
In addition to this apparent corporate scheming to escape accountability and responsibility, another scheme continues on. Those down along the Gulf still are unconvinced that information is flowing properly. They do not think they know what is happening and many are skeptical that the oil has in fact stopped leaking into the Gulf.
"Personally, I was lied to twice by coast guards," explains Desmarais. "A coast guard told me dispersants weren't harmful," which was contrary to scientific information Sullivan has been reading.
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