Fisheries Expert Condemns Use of Toxic Dispersant and Warns About Its Potential Long-Term Impact


Let me make a point with yet another entry for your “everyone speak for themselves” file.

Robert Barham, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agency, said this to the News-Star newspaper’s editorial board: “We all recognize the spill wasn’t as bad as we feared, but having said that, the final assessment of the impact won’t occur for years.”

Excuse me, but did he not contradict himself in the same sentence? How can we “know” it wasn’t as bad as we feared if we don’t yet know how bad the impact is?

Personally, I fear that the spill is not only going to turn out to be many, many times worse than we feared, but it may prove that we were so completely unprepared that we even feared the wrong things. Our big fear was oil washing up on our beaches, when perhaps we should have been afraid of the 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant that was dumped into the Gulf to keep the oil hidden from public view.

How about our economic fears? Maybe we feared that BP wouldn’t set aside money for economic claims, when what we should have been afraid of is that the process for paying for spill-related damages would drag on for months and be administered by somebody working directly for BP – with presidential sign-off, earning $850,000 per month and apparently accountable to nobody.

To his credit, Mr. Barham did continue to prove the case against himself, noting that more than 100 miles of coast in his state remains seriously oil-soaked. He had this to say about the plight of Alaska residents after the Exxon Valdez spill: “…they didn’t begin to see the dramatic impact on fisheries until four years passed when the herring fisheries collapsed, and there’s been a 22-year steady downward trend of the salmon fisheries,” Barham said. “That leads us to know that could be the case for Louisiana and the gulf.”

And then this from Mr. Barham: “We opposed the sub-sea dispersants from the first day, but BP poured more than a million gallons into that column of oil…my feeling is BP wanted that oil out of sight and mind. They didn’t want people to see that oil on the surface heading for the marshes and beaches.”

And even this: “The dispersant worked in fragmenting the oil, but LSU scientists tell us there will be traceable quantities of oil longer than anyone here will be alive.”

Barham even makes the case that our own government sided with BP: “I think the Coast Guard has deferred to BP since Day One. They’ve gone along with whatever BP said, including the dispersant.”

To review: We don’t yet know the impact on our fisheries; we don’t know if our seafood is safe to eat; we don’t have an effective claims system to compensate for economic damages; we have not even begun to examine the blowout preventer to see what went wrong; BP stock is rebounding nicely and the company is planning a return to paying dividends; mental health problems are skyrocketing across the Gulf; qualified scientists have found huge quantities of oil still in the Gulf. It’s a long list of issues, and you can add to it, no doubt.

Maybe our big fear is that the Coast Guard and NOAA would go along with Big Oil? Yet, with all that, the collective narrative seems to be “it wasn’t as bad as we feared?” No, I say again, maybe we just didn’t know enough to fear the real dangers.

Read the News-Star report here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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