In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout last year, BP repeatedly misled the public about how much oil was spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. Now, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the blowout, company executives would like us to believe that the spill has been cleaned up and the Gulf of Mexico is back to normal.
The people who actually live along the Gulf Coast tell us something different.
In a powerful new documentary airing on Saturday on Planet Green called Stories from the Gulf, residents make it clear they are still suffering the aftermath of the largest oil spill in American history.
The movie is based on interviews produced by NRDC and Bridge the Gulf and recorded by Story Corps. I had the opportunity to provide the opening narration for the film, but most of the voices come right out of the Gulf.
Finally, the people whose voices were so often drowned out by BP's multimillion dollar PR machine have a chance to speak for themselves.
They describe the struggle to feed their families after fishing grounds were closed and tourism dried up. Captain Darla Rooks talks about the persistent rashes, headaches, and other illnesses she's experienced after coming into contact with oil and dispersants.
Rosina Philippe laments the dead porpoises and star fish she still sees washing ashore. Eric Tiser says, "I've been in the bayou my whole life, and ain't never seen so much dead stuff in the last six months."
These Gulf Coast residents also worry what the spill will do to the future health of marine life. "My community is a fishing community," says Wendy Billiot. "And we're concerned about the long-reaching effects that the dispersants are going to have on the seafood. Are the fish going to continue to follow their life cycles? Are they going to grow past the larval stage? How much of all of these natural resources are going to be affected long-term? I think it's a lot of question marks."
Uncertainty weighs heavily on most of the people in the film. "I never thought at the time that it would impact us the way it has," says Ryan Lambert. "After 30 years of building the largest guide business on the Gulf Coast, here we are down 90-something percent, we're going to have to rebrand and put the perception that everything is fine. But how do you do that if you don't know that it's fine?"
Listening to people describe how much the bayou means to them, you realize how painful it must be not to know if their way of life can survive. But to know that the damage was wrought not by the caprice of a hurricane but by the greed and negligence of oil companies is just plain infuriating.
Numerous investigations, including President Obama's National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, found that while BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made many reckless decisions before the blowout, the entire oil and gas industry lacks a culture of safety and risk assessment. The federal government, in turn, lacks the power and capacity to oversee offshore drilling.
The oil industry, the government, and Congress must take steps to strengthen the safeguards that protect workers and the Gulf environment. America, meanwhile, must reduce the addiction to oil that drives companies into ever riskier conditions, like the deepwater.
But even as we put these changes in place, we must not disregard the people on the frontlines of this spill. We must not minimize their struggle or the sense of loss and sorrow that persists to this day.
Instead, we should listen to what they have to say.
Don't miss Stories of the Gulf: tune in Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on Planet Green. Find Planet Green on your TV.