BP Starts to Cut and Run, Leaving Death Behind

It’s been a bad month in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week BP decided to stop playing nice.  Ken Feinberg, who the oil giant chose to run its compensation fund for spill victims, recently released a report estimating fishermen’s losses.  The report predicted that Gulf wildlife would mostly be back to normal within a year or two, and it was widely criticized for ignoring the spill’s long-term effects (not to mention that it was based on some pretty shady research).  So BP crunched the numbers again and concluded that there would be even fewer long-term problems than Mr. Feinberg thought, meaning they shouldn’t have to pay as much to fix things.

Then, to add insult to injury, BP backed out of its promise to help Louisiana restore wetlands, oyster beds, and fish hatcheries.  In a report in yesterday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune, officials say that BP “has clearly changed their approach” to the restoration efforts.

Oiled wetlands in Louisiana's Bay Baptiste (photo: Rainforest Action Network)

Robert Barham, the state’s Wildlife & Fisheries Director, said, “All we’ve asked is for them to do what they said they would do in their commercials: be here for the long haul and make it right.”  But now the oil giant has decided to fight it out in court, forcing Louisiana to scramble to find money for these vital projects.

Call me a cynic but is anyone surprised at this turn of events?  BP said all the right things when the cameras were rolling and now we’re seeing their true colors.

Nobody would be happier than fishermen and wildlife lovers if BP turned out to be right—but the sad fact is that we have very little idea of what to expect in the Gulf, and the evidence we do  have points to a difficult recovery ahead for oysters, dolphins, fish and other wildlife.

Consider this—Dr. Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia has spent the last 8 months examining the sea bed around the blown-out well.  The samples and photographs her team collected painted a depressing picture: dead sea creatures, suffocated and poisoned by the oil that has accumulated on the ocean floor.

“I’ve been to the bottom.  I’ve seen what it looks like with my own eyes.  It’s not going to be fine by 2012,” Joye told The Associated Press. “You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion.”

Dolphins playing off the coast of Gulf Shores, AL (photo: Christy Sheffield)

And another tragedy is being linked to the spill: dead infant and stillborn dolphins are washing up on shore at an alarming rate.

Adult dolphin deaths tripled during the spill, but this is the first calving season since then and our first look at the long-term impact on marine mammals.  Scientists in Mississippi and Alabama have seen a spike in mortality since and, according to Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, it’s “more than just a coincidence.”

We’ve known all along that it would be a struggle to recover from this catastrophe and now more than ever we need to keep the spotlight on what’s happening in the Gulf.  You can find out more about NWF’s efforts to protect wildlife habitat (including volunteer opportunities) at www.nwf.org/Oil-Spill.