The federal government, having learned nothing from 2010 disaster, plows ahead with new Gulf oil leases


There was a report the other day that officials at my alma mater, Louisiana State University, are taking a good chunk of the money they received from the BP legal settlement and spending it on mental health services. It said that LSU is planning to spend some $14.4 million — out of a $36 million settlement — to hire psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and other mental health professionals. One of the main areas of focus will be on schoolchildren in the parishes most hard hit by the spill and the ensuing havoc that it wreaked on local industries such as fishing and tourism. It’s a very worthy project. As an attorney who’s been working with clients whose livelihoods have been devastated by the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, I’ve seen first-hand the enormous strains on families here in the Gulf. They’re still worried about their jobs, their health, their future.

There’s something else that the federal government, Big Oil, and the others who’ve promised to make the Gulf whole again could do to promote better mental health in the region. They could adopt sane, rational energy policies going forward. For one thing, they could exercise extreme caution about moving forward with new deepwater drilling in the Gulf, until we know more about both the impacts from the last spill and everything that needs to be done to make sure there’s never again a tragedy like Deepwater Horizon.

Of course, the exact opposite is happening:

Conservation groups today filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., that challenges the Obama Administration’s plans to increase offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico without fully addressing the risks to wildlife and the environment.  According to the suit, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management [BOEM] dismissed the lessons learned during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and failed to obtain essential information about the status of species and resources still suffering from the 2010 oil spill.

The Southern Environmental Law Center complaint filed today on behalf of Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenges BOEM’s decision to accept bids from oil and gas companies for new leases in the Gulf of Mexico as part of Lease Sale 216/222.

“BOEM is continuing the same irresponsible approach that led to the oil spill and harm still being felt in the Gulf today,” said Catherine Wannamaker, the senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups in court.  “Before selling new leases at ground zero for the Gulf oil spill, the government ignored critical information about the spill’s impacts that may have changed how it proceeded and better protected life.”

The government moving forward with these leases is, indeed, insanity. If we’ve learned anything over these last 26 months, it’s that the federal government will always side with Big Oil against the health and welfare of everyday citizens. With the presidential election coming up, the Obama administration seems hellbent in proving its “toughness” on the issues of domestic drilling and energy independence. But if the cost of this one slice of that energy independence is the risk of doubling down on the environmental devastation of one of this country’s greatest natural resources, that’s not worth any price. I fully support these environmental groups and their legal efforts to prevent these new leases for off-shore drilling.

The other day I was reading a piece about what’s really going on in the Gulf by a young woman named Monica Saha. Here is part of what she wrote:

The mutagenesis of the seafood has affected multiple marine species. This includes fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, and eyeless shrimp. After the oil spill, many fisheries closed due to many marine organisms dying. In short: less business. The fisheries that remained open have to deal with the mutant seafood.

Fisher Tracy Kuhn stated, “at the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of these.” She was referring to the eyeless shrimp. What was most disturbing was these shrimp simply do not lack eyes but eye sockets.

Monica Saha is a junior in neurobiology at the University of Kansas. And yet she seems to have a much deeper understanding if what’s going on in the Gulf than our so-called expert federal bureaucrats. It’s time for Washington to stop adding to our stress.

Read about the LSU mental health project in the Gulf at:

For more on the environmental groups suing over the new sale of federal oil-and-gas leases, go to:

To read Monica Saha’s essay on marine wildlife in the Gulf, go to:

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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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