Gulf oil disaster: A year on

2011-04-20 13:31

New Orleans - Relatives of the 11 men who died aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are flying over the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, back to the epicentre of the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history.

Meanwhile, on land, vigils were scheduled in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to mark the spill.

On the night of April 20 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a rig operated by Transocean Ltd, burst into flames as it was drilling a well for BP PLC, killing 11 workers on or near the drilling floor.

The rest of the crew evacuated, but two days later the rig toppled into the Gulf and sank to the sea floor. The bodies were never recovered.

Over the next 85 days, 780 million litres of oil - 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled - spewed from the well. In response, the nation commandeered the largest offshore fleet of vessels since D-Day, and BP spent billions of dollars to clean up the mess, saving itself from collapse.

"I can't believe tomorrow has been one year because it seems like everything just happened," Courtney Kemp, whose husband Roy Wyatt Kemp was killed on the rig, wrote on her Facebook page on Tuesday.

11 stars

"I have learned a lot of things through all of this but the most important is to live each day as if it were your last ... what matters is if you truly live."

Transocean invited up to three members of each family to attend the flyover. They are expected to circle the site a few times in a helicopter, though there is no visible marker identifying where their loved ones perished. At the bottom of the sea, 11 stars were imprinted on the well's final cap.

Several families said they didn't want to go on the flyover, and Transocean decided to not allow media on the flight or at a private service later in the day in Houston.

The solemn ceremonies marking the disaster underscore the delicate healing that is only now taking shape. Oil still occasionally rolls up on beaches in the form of tar balls, and fishermen face an uncertain future.

Louis and Audrey Neal, a Mississippi couple that survives on catching crabs, said it's gotten so bad since the spill that they're contemplating divorce and facing foreclosure as the bills keep piling up.

"I don't see any daylight at the end of this tunnel. I don't see any hope at all. We thought we'd see hope after a year, but there's nothing," Audrey Neal said.

100% worse

"We ain't making no money. There's no crabs," said Louis Neal, a lifelong crabber in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

"I'm in the worst shape I've ever been in my whole damn life. I'm about to lose my whole family," he said. "I can't even pay the loans I have out there. That's how bad it's gotten."

His wife said the financial hit was only part of the past year's toll. "Our lives are forever changed," she said. "Our marriage, our children, it's all gotten 100% worse."

She said the couple received about $53 000 from BP early on, but that was just enough money to cover three months of debt. They haven't received a dime from an administrator handing out compensation from a $20bn fund set up by BP, they said.

Still, it's not all so bleak.

Traffic jams on the narrow coastal roads of Alabama, crowded seafood restaurants in Florida and families vacationing along the Louisiana coast attest to the fact that familiar routines are returning, albeit slowly.

Recovery


"We used to fuss about that," said Ike Williams, referring to the heavy traffic headed for the water in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where he rents chairs and umbrellas to beachgoers. "But it was such a welcome sight."

Many questions still linger: Will the fishing industry recover? Will the environment bounce back completely? Will an oil-hungry public ever accept more deepwater drilling?

"It seems like it is all gone," said Tyler Priest, an oil historian at the University of Houston. "People have turned their attention elsewhere. But it will play out like Exxon Valdez did. There will be 20 years of litigation."

Most scientists agree the effects "were not as severe as many had predicted", said Christopher D'Elia, dean at the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University. "People had said this was an ecological Armageddon, and that did not come to pass."

Biologists are concerned about the spill's long-term effect on marine life.

"There are these cascading effects," D'Elia said. "It could be accumulation of toxins in the food chain, or changes in the food web. Some species might dominate."

Eroding soil


Meanwhile, accumulated oil is believed to lie on the bottom of the Gulf, and it still shows up as a thick, gooey black crust along miles of Louisiana's marshy shoreline. Scientists have begun to notice that the land in many places is eroding.

For example, on Cat Island, a patch of land where pelicans and reddish egrets nest among the black mangroves, Associated Press photographs taken a year ago compared with those taken recently show visible loss of land and a lack of vegetation.

"Last year, those mangroves were healthy, dark green. This year they're not," said Todd Baker, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Land is eroding on sites where the oil has killed vegetation, he said.

On a tour of the wetlands on Tuesday, Robert Barham, Louisiana's wildlife secretary, showed reporters the lingering damage.

Roseau cane is growing again where it was cut away during early cleanup efforts, but Barham said the waist-high stalks should be a lush green. Instead, they were pale green and brown.

Lack of confidence in sea food

"It's because of oil in the root system," Barham said. He put his hand into the dirt and pulled up mud saturated with oil. Tossing the sludge into nearby water, it released a rainbow-coloured sheen.

Barham complained that BP had not done enough to clean the area. "What they've done thus far is not working."

In the remote Louisiana marsh, there's still yellow boom in places - not to keep oil out but to keep the tides from carrying oil to untouched areas.

Confidence in Louisiana's seafood is eroding, too.

"Where I'm fishing it all looks pretty much the same," said Glen Swift, a 62-year-old fisherman in Buras. He's catching catfish and gar in the lower Mississippi River again. That's not the problem.

"I can't sell my fish," he said. "The market's no good."

But the BP spill has faded from the headlines, overtaken by the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and political clashes in Washington.

"Nationally, BP seems like a dim and distant memory," said Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University historian. But the accident will have long-lasting influence on environmental history, he said.


- AP

Read more on:    bp  |  us  |  environment  |  us oil slick
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

Zuma: Pray for peaceful polls

President Jacob Zuma has asked members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to pray for peaceful elections on 7 May.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Friday Grabouw - 11:32 AM
    Road name: N2 Eastbound
    DELAYS between Sir Lowrys Pass and Grabouw
  • Friday Cape Town - 10:14 AM
    Road name: M3 Inbound
    EVENT - left lane closed between Rhodes Avenue and UCT
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia Lumia 800

The stunningly social Nokia Lumia 800 features head-turning design, ...

From R2395.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you feel...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.