Massive La. tar mat demolishes claim that Gulf is back to normal


When it comes to the 2010 BP oil spill, I’m beginning to think that Louisiana is becoming some bizarro-world where up is down and left is right. The more that BP and the federal government insist that the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is over and that everything is back to A-OK normal in the Gulf of Mexico, the more that dramatic new evidence of environmental destruction completely undercuts their claims.

This week, BP is doing what it has shown it does best: Playing the victim — even after its own negligence caused the April 2010 rig explosion that killed 11 people and unleashed 5 million barrels of oil into the natural treasure that is the Gulf. Today, the company is running full-page ads in some major U.S. newspapers, solely to whine that the settlement that it not only negotiated but that it aggressively pushed through the legal system is now costing the British company billions of dollars more than it expected.

“Whatever you think about BP, we can all agree that it’s wrong for anyone to take money they don’t deserve,” the ad says. “And it’s unfair to everyone in the Gulf — commercial fishermen, restaurant and hotel owners, and all the other hard-working people who’ve filed legitimate claims for real losses.”

We objected,  at the Court hearing, to the proposed settlement as inadequate and we believe that is still the case. I was present when BP’s legal team argued repeatedly that the settlement had been negotiated at arms length, for many months with the assistance of a United States Magistrate, and was fair for all the parties. They practically begged the Court to approve the settlement. And BP’s lawyers repeatedly said that there was no cap on the amount of the settlement. Now that it’s costing more than expected they are whining. Is it the American people’s problem that BP miscalculated the costs of the settlement?

BP is a company that refused to acknowledge that its deep-water rig was a ticking time bomb, and then refused to admit the real amount of crude oil that was pouring out into the Gulf, is now denying reality again. The real reason that claims are coming in higher than the firm predicted is because the impact of its oil spill — on tourism, on the fishing industry, on the health and well-being of the workers who helped BP clean up its mess — is much more severe than its executives in their cushy offices back in London could have imagined.

And the crisis is ongoing. Here is the reality on Gulf beaches that the firm refuses to admit:

Three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, workers have dug up a massive chunk of weathered crude from the shallows off a Louisiana beach.

The tar mat, a slab of oil residue mixed with wet sand, was about 165 feet long by 65 feet wide, said Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Murphy, a Coast Guard spokeswoman. It weighed more than 40,000 pounds, but more than 85% of that weight was sand, shells and water, she said.

The mat was found under the surf off Isle Grand Terre, Louisiana, about 90 miles south of New Orleans. Crews using an excavator dug the largely submerged tar mat out of the beach in chunks over the last few weeks, Murphy said.

Louisiana is the last state where regular cleanup operations from the oil spill are still under way. The Coast Guard and BP, the owner of the ruptured well at the heart of the disaster, declared the cleanup over in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi earlier this month, but more than 80 miles of the Louisiana coast are still being patrolled.

Read that last paragraph carefully. The government has declared that the spill is essentially over in three Gulf states — when people who live along the Gulf Coast know that is simply not the case. Ask the folks in Alabama and Mississippi who had to clean up an ungodly amount of tar balls and other BP-induced gunk after 2012’s tropical storms, and will surely do the same this summer.  Also, to declare the cleanup ignores the plight of so many fishermen in those states, coming back to port with mostly empty boats. This has been the attitude of not just BP but in Washington since the day the rig was still on fire. They want to make this thing disappear. But I’ve got a 20-ton tar mat that proves them wrong. 

To read about BP’s new self-serving ad campaign, go to:

To read and watch CNN’s report about the massive tar mat on Grand Isle, check out:

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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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