Saturday, June 12, 2010


On Friday night, a group of fine Louisiana chefs will gather at a Marina in Grand Isle to cook their hearts out, so that the residents of the Gulf Coast can forget their troubles and just eat. I’m sure as much Louisiana seafood as possible will be served. The nearby murky, oil-thick water will keep them all land bound. One restaurant that will not be represented is P & J Oysters out of New Orleans. Although doing business since 1876, P & J laid off all of its employees last week. Nothing to shuck. Nothing to serve.

If you live in New Orleans, the spill is the theme right now. It runs through every conversation, every meal, every radio show and news report. People way outside of Louisiana do not seem to be quite as tuned in to the catastrophe as we are here, but maybe that’s understandable. After all, are New Orleanians fully tuned into to Nashville’s crisis right now? Not really. It seems we Americans are rather localized creatures, but the difference between the oil spill and other regionalized tragedies is that this one promises to affect every American, regardless of geography. Well-placed talking heads assure us that gas prices will go up indefinitely, domestic oil drilling is in peril and fully one-third of the nation’s seafood – from the Gulf waters – is in danger of disappearing.

There is widespread fear at the water’s edge in places like Grand Isle. If a community is built almost entirely on fishing and boating, and the water is being contaminated every day by oil that has gushed for eight weeks non-stop, what will become of the town, the culture, the people and the environment?

We are in the midst of the “information is power” age. Still, BP, the company fully responsible for this debacle, appears to be trying to limit and control information. Last week, a reporter from WDSU-TV in New Orleans went to the beach at Grand Isle and was denied access to the workers. Watch:

Despite such outrageous behavior on the part of BP, information has emerged endlessly about the company’s mishandling of the oil spill. You have to love the arrogance of a company that would mount a PR effort that tries to convince the world they’re good guys who can fix this catastrophe, right as the entire Gulf coast is drowning in their oil. So, that brings us to Dick Cheney. Huh? Well, it seems Ann Womack-Colton, Cheney’s former press secretary, has been hired to spin, spin, spin this story until her daddy takes the T-Bird away. She’s the new PR maven for BP.

Is it me or is there just a little too much corporate/governmental incest happening here? Let’s review: Dick Cheney was the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Halliburton from 1995-2000. From day one of the current spill, Halliburton has been under the microscope as the possible culprit. It was Halliburton that cemented the deepwater drill hole. It was also Halliburton that leased failed equipment to BP. Then BP hires Womack-Colton to make nice with the media and an angry public. Uncomfortably chummy, one might say. And how interesting that BP only mentioned that she had been director of public affairs for the Department of Energy (DOE) under George W. Bush. No mention of Dick Cheney.

From a strictly circumstantial standpoint, one could draw parallels between Halliburton and BP. For example, BP has come under criticism for a lack of transparency in its accounting procedures. Meanwhile, a government contract specialist turned whistle-blower revealed that Halliburton has overcharged the Pentagon for fuel charges in Iraq. Creative accounting seems to run in the BP/Halliburton family. At the very least, each has a lot to answer for, and neither has ever sufficiently cleared its image.

BP, it should be mentioned, also falsified its ability to deal with a major spill. According to Associated Press, in an oil-spill response plan, filed with the U.S. Minerals Management Service in 2008, BP assured the government it was prepared to handle an oil spill 10 times larger than the current Gulf spill. There’s more: In the 582-page document, titled "Regional Oil Spill Response Plan — Gulf of Mexico," BP clearly failed to do its homework. In the report, BP talks of possible danger to sea otters, seals and walruses. No such animals have ever lived anywhere near or in the Gulf of Mexico. It also names a wildlife expert as a consultant. The trouble is that the guy died in 2005 and the report was submitted in 2008. This is who we’re dealing with. This is BP. And this is the company that received $837 million in U.S. government contracts from the Department of Defense in 2009.

So here is what we are left with. Every effort to contain the oil so far has failed. BP will now buy oil sucking machines from Hollywood actor Kevin Costner. The company has clearly exhausted its own technological options to cap the gusher. Scientists are expressing fear that the pressure of what has already been done may cause cracks in the seabed, which could start a much greater crisis. Oil has now reached land in four states. Louisiana’s wetlands, already receding at alarming rates before the spill are slowly being destroyed. Hundreds of birds, turtles and other animals are dead or dying. And one wonders how the new PR queen will explain away published eyewitness accounts of BP scooping up carcuses of dead birds, so that they cannot be studied or autopsied. In some circles that might be called destroying evidence of the extent of the spill’s effect on wildlife.

If all of the above tug-at-your-heart stuff does not impress you, let the numbers tell the story. Bloomberg reports the oil spill may drive down the Gulf Coast’s shore-area property values by 10 percent for at least three years, according to CoStar Group, Inc., a property information service. Losses may total $4.3 billion along the 600-mile expanse from Louisiana to Florida.

So, to all of those anti-big government types out there: If anything, we Louisianans would like government to huff and puff a bit harder immediately and spread its legislative wings. The U.S. government needs to relegate BP to second string now and simply take over. If President Obama expects the electorate to stand behind him in 2012, he needs to stand up to BP right now. Elected officials in Washington up for re-election soon need to find some non-partisanship and go to bat for their constituents. Job one is stopping the oil from spewing into the Gulf. After that, BP must be held absolutely accountable for the disaster, and must pay every single American citizen for their losses. We have no time for Congressional hearings, across-the-aisle bickering or political posturing. For those who still doubt the national implications of this spill, reportedly President Obama will visit the coast again this week, and then address the nation in prime time from the Oval Office. Will he announce a Gulf recovery package that compensates the thousands of citizens and small businesses directly affected? Will the government come to the aid of places like Orange Beach, AL or Pensacola, FL, beach destinations that rely on tourism that is now non-existent? Will there be a plan and a timeline for restoring the coastline to its natural state? Stay tuned.

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