Hardest Times Come Years After A Spill


When we say the aftermath of BP oil spill is “about a way of life,” it can sound a little like just another political slogan. But it’s not, and a moving story by Theresa Vargas in the Washington Post truly illustrates what’s at stake down on the Gulf. Ms. Vargas follows a group of Louisianans who traveled to Alaska and talked to victims who fought through a similar battle after the Exxon Valdez spill.

I’d say it’s required reading for anyone following the current disaster in the Gulf.

The story focuses on about a dozen Louisiana residents – some public officials, some academics – making a pilgrimage of sorts to see what they can learn. They got advice, but also some chilling examples of what “losing a way of life looks like.” Families torn apart, depression, suicide – and much of it years and years after the spill, long after the national spotlight faded to black.

Vargas writes about “what if?” conversations: “If life had continued undisturbed, herring fishermen would have passed down valuable skills and permits to their children. A Native Alaskan village would have maintained, at least for a while, its prized isolation. Families would have stayed together instead of splintering between those who found ways to deal and those who struggle.”

And she offers this insight about what to expect: “If Alaska is any indication, the first year after a spill is not the hardest. It’s the years afterward when the environmental, cultural and societal consequences really surface” Among the cautionary stories, she reports that some “undoing” didn’t come the year of the spill or even the year after. But the pollution caught up, especially with the herring.

“When we say there is no herring here,” says a local fisherman, “that’s like [Louisianans] saying there is no shrimp. It’s like New England fishermen saying there is no cod.”

Advice out of Alaska includes one of the things I tell people down on the Gulf almost daily: Keep a diary, because it will help you remember things if you eventually provide testimony, either in court or in making claims. The Exxon Valdez aftermath also warns us that oil companies try to “divide and conquer” by paying some people a lot of money and others nothing. And the article cautions that health risks were not well known – just as they are not well known today.

As we close out a “lost summer” on the Gulf, it’s important to understand that we could be in for a very, very long haul.

Read the Washington Post article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/05/AR2010090503565.html?nav=hcmoduletmv

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

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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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