The news that has been coming out of the Gulf region the past few days has been a mix of concern, caution, and optimism. On Thursday September 2, there was an explosion on an oil platform off the Louisiana coast, which caused a brief flare-up of activity and attention in the media. When I heard the news, I immediately thought about the people we met along the coast and how they were processing this latest incident. Thankfully, there was no loss of life or oil spilled into the water this time around, but I can’t help but wonder how coastal residents perceive the risks to their livelihood in light of ongoing mis-steps by the industry that is responsible for so much economic activity in their communities.
The same day as the Mariner platform fire, Jerry Cope posted an alarming account of human toxic exposure while in the Gulf region over at Huffington Post. As I read his account of what his team experienced while in the area, I heard Lori’s words echoing in my head from our conversation with her near Dauphin Island, Alabama 2 weeks ago. She described changes in the air and water, including anecdotal evidence of adverse effects of the dispersants at her home and in her community. Jerry’s findings are hardly surprising, given the fact that Corexit (the dispersant used in the BP oil spill cleanup) is a hazardous substance, and in the manufacturer’s own product safety sheet it clearly states ‘Do not contaminate surface water.’
On the other hand, this week reports came out that describe microbes eating the oil but not causing oxygen depletion of the water as was feared by some initially. This was described as the ‘best possible scenario’ by Government Scientists in the AP report, yet we still don’t know the effects that the dispersants have had on the ecosystem and what the long-term implications will be on marine life. It seems premature to celebrate given the magnitude of what has taken place in the Gulf of Mexico this year.
On a note of optimism that characterizes the spirit that we encountered on our trip, Van Jones posted a moving article called The Gulf Will Be Beautiful Again about his vision for the future of the region. He portrays a new paradigm emerging that is both beneficial to the ecology and economy, an important balance that must be struck in order for meaningful progress to be made. Is it possible that we are at a turning point and are ready to take steps in a new direction for the Gulf Coast? I definitely would like to believe that’s the case. I share in the optimism that Van Jones puts forth – it is what drove me to organize this initiative in the first place.
Photos by Terrell Clark