Opening Waters Too Early


“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” –Groucho Marx

What happens when the government sides with the oil company time and again over several months, doing things like low-balling oil-flow rates and allowing toxic dispersant to pollute the environment? You get a total lack of trust – and the conflict is now playing out in Mississippi.

Louie Miller, state director of the Mississippi Sierra Club, is saying that opening state offshore waters to fishing is premature and cleanup is far from over. British Petroleum and “the government” say it’s fine. And we’d note that’s not the local government, but rather the Unified Command that’s been pro-oil for a some time now.

In news reports, Miller is quoted as saying: “We’ve got shrimpers out there saying there is oil out there… We had a meeting Wednesday night where we had over 150 shrimpers… who are saying there is oil out there and these underwater plumes are varying in size and shape. This stuff is obviously moving around out there.”

So who are you siding with, William Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the shrimpers or unnamed feds? Easy call – blame the shrimpers: “If you are not going to validate what you are saying through accepted scientific protocol and approaches, then quit talking about it without any evidence what you are saying is true.” In other words, you guys are on your own.

Mr. Miller counters with reports of submerged oil: “It is a weird thing. It is like strands, this black water, as they are calling it. It is like strands that are about three to four times the thickness of human hair. These things can be about foot-and-a-half, to five- to six-feet-long.”

And Mr. Miller has a theory about the conflict with the state: “To open up these waters, in my opinion, is nothing more than to limit the liability of BP to pay claims,” he said. “Somebody is not telling the truth here. I have no confidence in Bill Walker whatsoever. He might as well be working for BP. He is not protecting the resources of Mississippi.”

Mr. Walker denies there’s a problem, saying that the oil is no risk and “the federal folks have been analyzing for dispersant chemicals for a while now” and have given the all-clear.

We are going to see more and more of this and Mr. Marx was right; the question will be who to believe: British Petroleum and is friends or our own eyes.

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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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