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  • Michelle Pichon

It’s Not Over - 5 Years After the BP Oil Drilling Disaster

I live about 250 miles from the closest access to the Gulf of Mexico. You might think that because I don’t live on the Gulf Coast that the BP oil “spill” didn’t have an effect on me. Well, you’d be wrong. I may not live on the Gulf, by my home state is part of the Gulf South. We are connected to the Gulf and that means we are connected to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. There are many things about this event that concern me, even five years later.

First of all, it is- present tense. The oil has not disappeared. It is not over. It was not cleaned up. It did not go away. The oil is still there.

Let’s call it what it is – a disaster. It is not a spill. The word spill connotes something minor, something easily contained are remedied. What happened with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the subsequent massive oil gusher is far from a little spill. This was epic. Eleven human lives were lost along with countless animal lives and plant species. MILLIONS of gallons of oil spewed into the waters, land, wildlife, and communities were contaminated by the oil. Toxic dispersants banned in Europe, were used to “clean up” the mess. Let’s stop trying to minimize what happened. It was big. It was horrendous. And it is not over.

It is a crime against humanity. The smoke that burned while the rig was on fire was breathed in for miles. Thousands of people who worked the cleanup without proper protection have became ill. Lungs began to burn. Skin began to blister. The stress of working and living among the toxins associated with this oil drilling disaster has possibly contributed to many mental health problems, feelings of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, anger, and even suicidal thoughts as a result of health issues, economic hardships, and cultural damage.

The BP oil drilling disaster continues to be a crime against cultures. For many who make a living working on the Gulf, that work is part of a cultural tradition. One third of the fishers affected by the BP disaster are Vietnamese American fishing communities. For many, their way of life on the Gulf is the only life they know and a skill that they brought with them from fishing villages in their native land.

It is a straight up crime. Earlier this month, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said BP “misinterprets and misapplies” data to obscure the truth.

This disaster has caused unsurmountable economic hardships and environmental damage. Some fisherman and rig workers, who found themselves out of work after the disaster, felt compelled to take temporary work with BP, as part of the cleanup effort. The key word here is temporary. What were they supposed to do once that temporary work ended? Or worse, when they got sick?

Photo courtesy of Harlan Kirgan/Press-Register

A third of the fishers affected by BP’s catastrophic oil disaster are Vietnamese and they don’t have equal access to restitution payments and other aid. The language barrier to get information and file claims, inconsistent filing processes, and document requirements caused problematic delays says Thao Vu of Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese American Fisherfolk and Families. “There has always been a problem, this only compounds it.”

The tourism industry is a crucial part of the Gulf Coast’s economy and the BP incident put an ugly stain on it. People stopped eating Gulf seafood after the disaster and many people turned away the Gulf Coast beaches and resorts out of fear or negative perception. Many small businesses that closed as a direct result of the disaster were not financially able to open again.

What the Gulf South is facing now is our reputation of resiliency. The oil and gas industry can respond and contain well blowouts offshore faster than ever before, said Don Armijo, CEO of the Marine Well Containment Co. But, he also said work remains to make sure containment equipment keeps pace with industry's push to drill in deeper waters.

Here’s the thing. We need to take the focus off of being resilient and instead focus on being resistant. We don’t want to keep getting dumped on. We don’t want to get taken advantage of. We don’t want to bounce back. We don’t want to recover. We don’t want to be the subject of studies. We want these events NOT to occur. We want to say no to polluting industries and their messy, hazardous ways. Instead, we want to push for a just transition to cleaner, safer industries that prioritize our wokers.

We need to hold bad actors accountable. They won’t be able to sing the “It ain’t my fault” tune. Like the Gulf Aid rendition of the song says, “Oil and water don’t mix/petroleo is not a grease to blacken my fish.” If we stand together, as the united Gulf South, we are a force to be reckoned with. “The seas are rising and so are we!”

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