Deepwater Repair Deeper than Clean Water
April 20th, 2010, the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded into an oil-fueled inferno, gushing millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean near the Gulf of Mexico. Workers perished in the flames, wildlife doused out in black sludge, and businesses crippled. How could this have happened? Investigation found that while the rig itself was prepared for such a disaster, the crew was not. The initial problem was with the poor construction of a cement barrier at the base of the well, but the main issue was the lack of safety training for the crew in an event this catastrophic. Signs of multiple safety systems being activated during the incident were found by investigators, but many of them did not completely work or were damaged by the initial explosions. Many of the safety systems were also discovered to be incredibly complicated and difficult to operate under extraneous circumstances, recommending swift but non-panicked action while operating. British Petroleum was ultimately pinned for the blame of the incident as BP managers were the ones who should have given the proper training. Now, there is a long road of restoration ahead for the Gulf, more complicated than simply cleaning up the oil. Hopes and dreams have been crushed by this spill. What reparations can heal those wounds?
The repair of the environment and economy along the gulf coast is a huge project that has yet to be fully completed even to this day, six years later. The environment has been affected in the long term in many ways, bird nesting grounds have been ruined and continued land erosion has only gotten worse. It is in BP’s greatest interest to get the environment back to its former self, as it will help the struggling seafood industry as ocean life population increases and the beaches are clean for tourists. On the economic side of things, businesses such as sea food restaurants have had to shut down or severely decreased production due to lack of supply since the spill. Other tourist attractions are seeing less and less visitors as people were unwilling to visit the oil black beaches. BP is paying millions of dollars in reparations to the local businesses, but what about for those who have already gone under? Is it too little too late?
The detailed studies of the long term effects of the spill have been withheld, pending to be released after the trial against BP from the government. Although many of the effects can be clearly seen. When the surf gets too rough, tar left under the sand of the beaches is swept back up to the surface as recent as 2015.
Louisiana’s land erosion problems have actually gotten worse,coming close to doubling along 100 miles of the shore. Long time pelican nesting islands are ruined and almost 100 different species of birds have been exposed to oil, which is projected to have an impact on the food webs of the local ecosystems. The dolphin population has dropped significantly, with dead dolphins being clearly visible floating on the surface after the incident. According to the National Wildlife Foundation, scientists have estimated the habitats on the bottom of the Gulf could take anywhere from multiple decades to hundreds of years to fully recover.(Restoring the Gulf Coast) What has BP done so far? They have spent $28 billion dollars in restoration efforts, and locals say the popular Gulf Shores beaches of Alabama have appeared to be recovering nicely. They have now paid $61 Billion in total in payments to the community. So far, nature is nowhere near being totally recovered, blots of tar are still on the ocean floor and much of the local wildlife is still struggling to reach the numbers they were in eight years ago, but BP’s cleanup efforts have made the beaches completely clean and safe for tourists.
Nature is like a person, something that can not be repaired with spare parts. While it has regenerating abilities like us, it needs proper care before it can begin to heal again. In Repair : The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, Elizabeth Spelman states how this relates to the human body by writing how miraculous our self healing is and also that “… it can’t do that, and will cease doing it, without being fed and watered”(33). Our efforts can not be centered around quick fixes or solutions just for the time being, we need to nurse nature back to its former self. Nature is not simply a machine that needs to get running again, but another living being that needs to be given nutrients and proper conditions to repair on its own. We must craft new parts to rebuild nature back to its former glory. The increased land erosion of the Louisiana coast was an already growing issue. To keep the wetlands from degrading into the sea, we need to grow new plants and trees and plant them, binding the soil. Fragile balances need to be restored, such as the amount of fresh and saltwater in the gulf to promote a healthy environment for fish to thrive again. Now uninhabitable islands and decreased populations will show like scars on the ecosystem for possibly decades. Simply cleaning out the oil is like washing a snake bite, we clear away the blood and do our best to protect from infection, but the venom is now coursing through the veins of the ecosystem. As it travels through ocean currents and becomes embedded in beaches, it poisons the wild life and douses out regrowth. Even with our help, nature will need time to recover itself the same way a person heals over time with proper treatment of a wound.
Despite BP’s cleanup efforts, the business owners of the area have still suffered in the aftermath. Businesses that could survive the initial shock of the accident, dealing with severely decreased amounts of tourists, have been able to stay afloat for the most part. According to surveys, the spill had the potential to impact 7.3 million businesses along the coast, potentially costing 34.4 million employees and $5.2 trillion in sales volume. However, particularly seafood restaurants took the biggest toll, drastically less supply and stigmas around the food possibly being oil contaminated burned the restaurants too fast for subsidies to help. One of the biggest factors of the economic downslide of the area was misconceptions of how severely the spill affected typical tourist attractions. While beaches were covered in tar at some points, surveys found that many people also assumed swamp tours, boating, and hiking in some areas were closed but were not. As stated earlier, it was found that even though there was assumed contamination of the oysters in the area, they were still perfectly fine to eat and had only decreased in numbers. According to bp.com ,
In addition, the settlement approved in April 2016 includes a total of $4.9 billion to be paid over 18 years to settle economic and other claims made by the five Gulf Coast states, and up to $1 billion to resolve claims made by more than 400 local government entities. BP has accepted releases received from the vast majority of local government entities and payments required under those releases were made during the third quarter of 2016.
In fact, the area has actually seen a tourism boom in the past year. While this is in part because of the recovering economy allowing more Americans to go on vacation as opposed to 2010, BP’s funding of tourist ad campaigns have made the area nation known.
The restoration of beaches and businesses of the Gulf Coast is important to returning the area to its former glory. There is much that is too late to repair at this point, such as the businesses that have already gone under, or the lives lost in the initial explosion. In Repair, Spelman writes “‘Restorative justice’.. It’s about putting the repair of victims, offenders, and the communities of which they are a part at the center of justice.”(51). I believe that even in the face of the irreparable, restorative justice towards BP has been incredibly lacking. The company as a whole was charged with several felony and criminal charges for the deaths of their workers and agreed to pay over $4 billion in criminal fines. Other than that, only four actual people were charged with crimes but they were concerning obstruction of justice and pollution, not the deaths of any of the workers. Going beyond the obvious, the sea food businesses that survived the initial shock of the incident are still feeling the effects today. Oyster production from one of the highest producing oyster reefs has been at an all time low since the oil spill. It doesn’t matter how many tourists start to come back to the beaches, if supply is low then there is less money to be made. BP’s efforts to restore their image have been plentiful. Spelman states in Repair that “an apology is a kind of offering, a kind of gift”(85). This is exactly what BP was trying to portray with their “I’m sorry” ad campaign. The series of TV commercials included their CEO directly apologizing for the spill. For this gift, they appeared noble and genuinely committed to solving the problem, even though there are still some issues they have yet to address to this day. I personally believe that this was superfluous for actual repair and was only done to repair their own image, into any bonds between their customers out of legitimate sorrowfulness. A much better way they approached repair over the airwaves was by paying for tourism advertisements for the areas affected for the gulf after the popular spots along the coast were cleaned up. This was much better for repair than simply saying “I’m sorry”, as it actively encourages returning the gulf to its original state, specifically its economy. People do not care whether a faceless company is sorry or whether a CEO is willing to say it, what they do care about is when they can go back to their favorite vacation spots over the summer and eat at their favorite restaurants. Businesses and nature are surprisingly similar in that they can’t repair on apologies, thrive off of words, cultivate from sentiment; they require direct action and physical reparations for repair. In Repair, Spelman states that reparations testify to the sincerity of an apology (79). I believe that in this case, reparations not only testify to the apology, but would be required to prove the sincerity of the apology to begin with.
While there is much more work to be done and I do not believe BP has received enough repercussions for their direct involvement in the spill, their project of repair as far as the residents and tourists of the gulf at large are concerned has been successful. On the surface the gulf looks as healthy as it has ever been and its recent boom in tourism proves it.
Local ocean tour business owner Ted Scarritt said, “We’re just amazingly thankful…I think our area has recovered profoundly. You can look at the water right now, you can look at the beach. We’re fine.” (Al.com) If we look closely at the ocean, the recovering ecosystem, and the pending trials against BP, we can see there is still much to be done that simply will not be resolved any time soon. This project of repair is far more complicated than what can be solved in the immediate future. Only time will tell how far BP will be forced to take their recovery efforts. Our world is already taking enough of a beating as it is with global warming being one of the most urgent issues of today, further destruction without action only compounds our fate to a doomed planet. I urge everyone to to not allow this event to drift to the back of their heads, to remember that our actions can have effects past our initial perceptions and that we must hold ourselves and BP responsible to keep this project of repair ongoing.
“Gulf of Mexico.” AccessScience (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Nwf. “Restoring the Gulf Coast — National Wildlife Federation.” National Wildlife Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Press, The Associated. “5 Years after Oil Spill, BP Credited for Gulf Coast Tourism Boom.” AL.com. N.p., 25 May 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Spelman, Elizabeth V. Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. Boston: Beacon, 2002. Print.