National Geographic Channel relives the Gulf oil spill nightmare in two-hour special


For two hours tonight, the National Geographic Channel returns to the dark days of summer.

The second hour, an episode of the network’s “Explorer” series, is a chilling revisit to the BP oil catastrophe, the months-long efforts to end it and the scientific speculation about the likely years-long ecological impact of the spilled oil and sprayed dispersants.

Peter Coyote narrates. Behind-the-scenes footage of crisis-management efforts plus vivid plume footage puts “Can the Gulf Survive?” in the same category as certain Hurricane Katrina documentaries: Avoid it if you’re flashback-prone.

The first hour humanizes the disaster by visiting Venice to meet some of the people who have been, and will continue to be, most affected by the spill.

Days after the well was capped, National Geographic flew two of the Venice residents featured in the film — Kindra Arnesen and Eric Tiser — to Los Angeles to publicize “The Last Catch.”

A ballroom full of TV critics in the Beverly Hilton hotel is a long way from CrawGators Bar & Grill at the Venice Marina, but Tiser, who comes from a long line of commercial fishers but who has also worked offshore-oil, represented in a Jeremy Shockey jersey.

Arnesen came loaded with info about the Coastal Heritage Society of Louisiana, a nonprofit advocacy group for locals.

She also brought symptoms.

“People were getting sick early on, ” Arnesen said in a backstage interview after meeting the critics. “My husband got sick April 29 and he’s been ill ever since. He still has brown liquid leaking out of one of his ears.

“Plus the rashes. People are coming up with these staph infections. I personally broke out over two weeks ago and went to see a skin disease specialist over 200 miles inland. The doctors who are diagnosing are not trained in chemical-exposure illnesses. No. 2, they really are scared to get involved. There so many large companies, industries, connected to this. I think they’re scared to get involved pending further litigation.

“I’ve lost 33 pounds since the oil spill started. The accumulation of it all is why I finally got sick.”

So sick that she had to move her kids, ages 5 and 8, to near Baton Rouge.

“With all this happening, what’s tomorrow going to bring?” Arnesen said. “Or, what is it not bringing?

“It’s not just about our livelihood, it’s about our whole way of life. I’ve had to separate my family. I’ve had to take my kids out of a home with a father. My husband is a phenomenal parent. He’s the grilled-cheese guy. He’s the pancake man. I can’t say enough about what a great partner and parent my husband is. He’s my best friend.

“Our family has been on the back burner since this started because I’ve been so involved. For Katrina, we were the first hit and first forgotten, so I’ll be damned if I’ll see that happen again.”

Tiser brought symptoms, too.

“I smelled the rotten egg in the bayou, ” he said. “I’ve had headaches in my life. The last three months I’ve had more headaches. I live with headaches now. I get nauseated. I’m in the bayou a lot.”

Tiser said he got his first call for spill-cleanup work, after weeks of applying, the day he departed for Los Angeles to help publicize the film.

“The parish knew I was coming to Hollywood, ” he said. “Yesterday, when I was on the plane, ‘Oh, we got you a job.’

“Come on, man. Give us a break. Katrina done busted us in the ass, you know?”

And now the spill.

I asked Tiser if he still had hope that his way of life — as reflected in tonight’s special — can be preserved.

“I hope so, ” he said. “God, I hope so.”

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

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