Here’s Mac McClelland of Mother Jones reporting from the front lines.
(On) Grand Isle beach … toddlers splash in the surf. Only after I’ve stepped in a blob of crude do I realize that the sheen on the waves and the blackness covering a little blue heron from the neck down is oil.
The next day, cops drive up and down Grand Isle beach explicitly telling tourists it is still open, just stay out of the water. There are pools of oil on the beach; dolphins crest just offshore. A fifty-something couple, Southern Louisianians, tell me this kind of thing happened all the time when they were kids; they swam in rubber suits when it got bad, and it was no big deal. They just hope this doesn’t mean we’ll stop drilling.
What’s crude oil after all, except reincarnated water? It’s a slightly different color, and a slightly different consistency, but that just makes it more fun to splash around in.
McClelland’s article spells out how BP seems to be running the show in Grand Isle, with the total and complete cooperation of the local police as reinforced by sheriff’s deputies from Jefferson Parish. But, somehow, the local fire chief didn’t care to drink the Kool-Aid:
(Grand Isle fire chief) Aubrey Chaisson … tells me that I can’t trust the government or big corporations. When everyone saw the oil coming in as clear as day several days before that, BP insisted it was red tide—algae. Chaisson says he’s half-Indian and grew up here and just wants to protect the land. When I tell him BP says the inland side of the island is still clean, he spits, “They’re fucking liars. There’s oil over there. It’s already all up through the pass.” The spill workers staying at my motel later tell me they’ve been specifically instructed by BP not to talk to any media, but they’re pissed because BP tried to tell them that the crude they were swimming around in to move an oil containment boom was red tide, dishwashing-liquid runoff, or mud.
But that’s nowhere near the best part. Try this, which apparently is what BP is pleased to describe as its clean-up effort. Any resemblance to a recovery-and-reprocessing operation is only in your anti-corporate commie pinko mind:
The shoreline (of Elmer’s Island) is packed with men in hats and gumboots and bright blue or white shirts. Nearly all are African-American, all hired from around New Orleans. They tell me they’ve been standing in these exact same spots for three days. It’s breathtakingly hot. They rake the oil and sand into big piles; other workers collect the piles into big plastic bags, and still other workers take them to a plant where the sand is separated out and sent to a hazardous-waste dump and the oil goes on for processing. Then the tide comes in with more oil and everybody starts all over again. Ten dollars an hour. Twelve hours a day. When I joke with one worker that he should pocket the solid gobs of oil he’s digging up to show me how far beneath the sand they go, he stops dead and asks me if BP’s still trying to use the oil they all collect. “Aw, I knew it!” he says. Another leans on his rake to ask me, “Have they at least shut the oil off yet?” He randomly picks three spots in a three-foot-wide expanse of sand that he’s already raked clean and drops his rake in an inch deeper to show me how the oil bubbles up from underneath. He can’t count how many times he’s raked this same spot in the 33 hours he’s worked it since Thursday, but one thing he’s sure of, he says, is that he’ll be standing right here tomorrow and the next day, too.
What impresses me most is how prepared BP was for a scenario like this one. They may not have been anywhere near prepared to kill the spill, but a fully operational plant to separate oil from sand was conveniently to hand. By any reasonable standard, that’s top-notch corporate contingency planning. Hopefully, the right people will get a big fat bonus in the fullness of time.
*** Update, 5:30 p.m. ***
Here’s the photo essay version of Scenes From a Spill.
I’m afraid this is required viewing. And don’t you dare wimp out till you get to the last photograph. Then go find some constructive way to channel your outrage.