On flesh-eating bacteria and BP’s lame effort “to set the record straight”


Apparently, tens of millions of dollars on catchy, beautifully shot television ads that have been seen by pretty much every American multiple times still hasn’t been enough for BP to — their words, not mine — “set the record straight” on what really happened after their corporate negligence caused the death of 11 people and unleashed 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

I guess that’s understandable.  It seems that every time the ad airs — with its images of happy tourists frolicking on a white sandy beach or chomping into an oversized shrimp cocktail — there’s another story in the news suggesting that maybe things aren’t the way that they appear on your TV screen. One day it’s an invasion of tar balls, or maybe even a giant tar mat that’s half the size of a high school football field, and the next day it’s conclusive news that the toxic dispersant that BP relied upon the make the oil disappear back in 2010 has devastated marine life or made clean-up workers ill. It seems that the more people follow the actual news, the more it looks like the money BP spent on its ads went down the drain.

So now here — some three-and-a-half years later, with the Gulf Coast still reeling from the impact of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe — comes Round Two. Now it’s a web site that the oil giant thinks will get its “true story” out there

“This site is part of the company’s continuing effort to keep employees, shareholders and the general public informed about BP’s progress in fulfilling its commitment to economic and environmental restoration along the Gulf Coast,” says a post on the website, which features news about the Gulf, legal developments and the company’s recovery efforts in the region.

A post placed on the website Tuesday bears the headline, “Gulf Tourism Industry Continues to Break Records,” citing the online news site AL.com.

There’s also this:

The site also features a menu called “Answering Our Critics,” in which the company lays out various defenses against claims made against BP, such as the government’s calculation that about 4.2 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf.  BP contends the amount was 2.45 million barrels. A barrel is 42 gallons.

The amount spilled will figure in fines BP may pay under the Clean Water Act.

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find on BP’s self-serving site:

Does BP believe it was grossly negligent in actions leading to the spill, the website asks. The question was the focus of the first phase of the civil liability trial that is being heard in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

“Absolutely not,” the website states. “BP was not grossly negligent. ‘Gross negligence’ is a legal standard under U.S. law that requires plaintiffs to show ‘a culpable state of mind’ and ‘extreme and egregious misconduct.’ This is an extremely high bar that BP believes the plaintiffs did not have in this case, and any gross negligence finding is therefore unwarranted.”

Of course, if you followed reports on what happened before the rig exploded you’d know that BP engineers had been warning for months that the metal casing that the company wanted to use might collapse under high pressure, that workers for the rig owner Transocean had been concerned for some time about safety practices on the rig but feared reprisals for reporting them, that a key device – the blowout preventer – had not been inspected since 2005 and had been damaged earlier in an unreported accident, and that there had been problems in cementing the casing right before the blast….aong other mishaps. I’m not sure at what point BP’s actions went from gross negligence to farsically gross negligence — but that’s the real record.

And now, here’s a story that was in the news this week that was NOT linked on the new BP website.

A couple hundred miles away at Auburn University, Dr. Cova Arias, a professor of aquatic microbiology, conducts research on the often-deadly and sometimes flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio Vulnificus. Arias’ research at Auburn, and through the school’s lab at Dauphin Island, has focused on Vibrio’s impact on the oyster industry which was brought to a standstill three years ago by the BP Oil Spill. In 2010, out of curiosity, Arias set out to discover if Vibrio were present in the post-spill tar balls washing up on the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. She was highly surprised by what she found.

“What was clear to us was that the tar balls contain a lot of Vibrio Vulnificus,” said Arias.

Arias can show an observer Vibrio in the lab as it appears as a ring on the top of the solution in a test tube. Vibrio is not something, though, that a person can see in the water, sand, or tar balls.

But, Arias’ research shows it there, especially in the tar balls, in big numbers.

According to Dr. Arias’ studies, there were ten times more vibrio vulnificus bacteria in tar balls than in the surrounding sand, and 100 times more than in the surrounding water.

“In general, (the tar balls) are like a magnet for bacteria,” said Arias.

And these toxic tar balls, as regulars of the blog probably know, are washing ashore on Gulf beaches all the time — those exact same beaches that tourists are said to be flocking too in record numbers. But too many of us here on the Gulf know BP’s real record, and we’re not going to be fooled — not by the slick TV commercials and not by a new website. Just the other day,. Gen. Russel Honore, who showed tremendous leadership in bringing normalcy back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said that he’d had it up to here with the abuses of Big Oil; he is organizing citizens to crusade for full and fair funding to restore the Gulf. You see, folks down here are living with this every day, and we know the truth. You don’t need a website to know which way the wind blows.

To read about BP’s new website from Fuelfix, please go to: http://fuelfix.com/blog/2013/11/06/bp-launches-website-to-set-the-record-straight-on-the-gulf/

For more on the website from NOLA.com, please read: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/11/bp_launches_new_web_site_defen.html

For the latest on flesh-eating bacteria in tar balls from the BP spill, check out: http://www.wkrg.com/story/23905999/flesh-eating-bacteria-tied-to-bp-oil-spill-tar-balls

Read my Nov. 1 blog post on Gen. Honore declaring war on the abuses of Big Oil: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/respected-general-declares-war-on-the-abuses-of-big-oil/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – 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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