Stuart H. Smith knows as much about the oil industry as anyone.
After successfully — and almost exclusively — suing oil companies over their ill effects on environments for the last 22 years, Smith believes that “barring a miracle,” the Destin area will inevitably see oil.
As a partner at Smith Stag Attorneys at Law, Smith has formed the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group, and has also been instrumental in the release of information since the initial incident at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
The firm has also already obtained three court orders concerning contracts with Louisiana fishermen and has been filing “very discrete claims for injunctive relief.”
“We became very concerned with the lack of transparency with respect to the BP oil spill,” Smith told The Log. “We were not getting information from them or from the command center on how much was leaking … At first there was no leak, and then it was 1,000 barrels a day, and then it was 5,000 barrels a day. Then our experts and others believe it was 20-25,000 barrels a day and then you still have some people saying 5,000 barrels a day. So nobody really knows.”
Smith is a native of New Orleans and a founding partner of Smith Stag. He has also built a reputation for pioneering the field of oil field waste litigation and has appeared as a legal analyst on FOX News and CNN. Smith is best known for his role as lead prosecutor in an oilfield radiation case that resulted in a verdict of $1.056 billion against ExxonMobil.
Smith Stag employs multiple engineers and other oil experts who help decipher the significance of the information the firm and the public receive.
“So we wanted the videotape of the leak, because that’s how you estimate what the volume is, based on the size of the column of oil coming out of the pipe and how fast it’s rising,” said Smith. “We’ve been screaming about the lack of them producing a video tape for the last two weeks.”
Last Wednesday, BP Global released the sought-after footage after being served with a subpoena in the week prior. The clip, which you can watch on thedestinlog.com, has helped the Smith Stag experts reach numbers that they feel are much more accurate.
“This could destroy the lifeblood of the entire Gulf Coast,” said Smith. “It’s not just economics. People forget that. It’s also a way-of-life.”
The Smith Stag engineers do not expect the leak to stop for at least three months, which Smith believes will cause a “complete collapse in the Gulf fishery.”
“Most of these fish, the vast majority of fish that you find in Destin and in the eastern Gulf, are spawned in Louisiana,” said Smith. “I think that this could not have happened at a worse time from that point of view because these fish are now, or were, spawning. These seeds that they spawned are completely sensitive to environmental conditions, so they’re not going to survive.”
Smith believes that the oil, combined with the dispersants could kill “just about everything in the Gulf of Mexico” if it leaks for another three to four months.
“The other thing we’re very interested in is what is in these dispersants that they’re using,” said Smith. “The material’s safety data sheet and the information on the Web that we’ve been able to obtain say that the actual contents of the dispersants are proprietary. So they’re not even telling us what it is that they have just dumped 100,000 gallons of into the Gulf of Mexico. They have used up one-third of the world supply of dispersants, and if they plan on continuing to use it we are very concerned because the material is toxic to fish and marine life, much more toxic than oil.”
Smith sees short, medium and long-term effects in the future.
“Even if you get the beaches cleaned up … it’s still going to be in the water,” said Smith. “People aren’t going to go to the beaches, they’re going to go somewhere else.”
Smith is afraid that Destinites, along with the rest of the Gulf Coast, are being misled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website and charts, which show a considerable amount of space between the oil and our area.
“That top surface, there, is subject to wind action,” said Smith. “It’s going to go wherever the wind is pushing it. However, everything below that is not going to be driven by the wind, it is going to be driven by the currents. And the currents aren’t going west, they’re coming here. So while the currents may be traveling at one or two knots an hour, it’s going to take a while, but it’s coming. You would not have BP setting up claims offices over here if it weren’t.”
The unforeseen medical toll that oil and dispersants could have on Gulf Coast residents is one of his biggest concerns.
“I think what people need to be concentrating on is potential health impacts on coastal communities that come into contact with the spill,” said Smith. “Nobody’s talking about it. Pregnant women should not be exposed to these materials. And young infants, or people with respiratory problems.”
Smith Stag will be hosting a meeting this week to speak with the public “whose livelihoods are being impacted by the oil spill.” The first of which will be Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m., at the Emerald Grande in the west ballroom. The second will be held at noon, Thursday, at the Regatta Bay Country Club.
“We’re going to be here for quite a while, I think,” said Smith. “We’ve already been retained by several major hotel developments here and in Panama City … We’re meeting with people, we’re explaining to them what’s going on with the disaster … Then, we’re talking about the legal rights that people have with respect to the Oil Pollution Control Act, state law and general maritime law. And then we’re also explaining what damages are recoverable and then, most importantly, how to document the damages. It’s real important that people document their lost income.”
Smith Stag’s meetings with Destinites will include Certified Public Accountants (CPA’s) who will explain how to document damages and the economic losses.
For more information on the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group visit gulfoildisasterrecovery.com, or to contact Smith Stag Attorneys at Law call (504) 593-9600.