In southeastern Louisiana, anger over the oil spill is increasingly directed at BP.

News and commentary about environmental issues.
May 3 2010 5:50 PM

BS at BP

In southeastern Louisiana, anger over the oil spill is increasingly directed at BP.

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Others seemed too shell-shocked to be angry. "I don't know what we're gonna do," said Kevin Heier, a crab trapper and seafood dealer. "I never thought that it would end this way. After Katrina, we came back. But this is gonna seal our fate."

Indeed, the effects of the BP oil leak on these communities will go far beyond the economy, according to J. Steven Picou, a sociologist at the University of Alabama who has researched the long-term effectsof environmental disasters, including the Exxon Valdez spill. In the Alaskan towns affected by that spill, Picou explained, "the psychological and social impacts have persisted over time: high rates of community conflict, PTSD, depression, even suicide."

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Much of the criticism of BP has centered around the fact that the company apparently had no backup plan in the event of a failure of the well's blowout preventer, a crucial piece of equipment intended to prevent a massive leak of this kind. "There was no good Plan B," observed Ed Overton, an oil-spill expert in the environmental studies department of Louisiana State University. Critics have pointed out, for example, that the rig lacked a type of remote-control shutoff switch that is required on offshore wells in Brazil and Norway.

As they waited at the marina in St. Bernard to load protective booms onto their boats, a number of fishermen also complained about BP's planning failure. I asked a few of them how they would get by in the aftermath of the spill. "We can't collect unemployment, because we're all pretty much self-employed," said one. Ben Stuckart, the oysterman, said that local officials had promised the men they would receive food stamps. "That's fine and everything," he said. "But how am I gonna pay my rent with food stamps?"

Said Kevin Heier, the crab trapper: "I guess we've got no plan B, either."

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Justin Vogt is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans.

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