Six years ago today, 11 members of the Deepwater Horizon Crew were still alive. The Gulf of Mexico, thanks to decades of dredging by the oil companies was a slowly growing disaster – but it was still a tourist destination and a source of jobs for thousands of fishermen.
New Orleans, still recovering from the man-made disaster that was Hurricane Katrina would again, in just 2 days become the center of America’s latest great environmental tragedy.
All this week we’ll be sharing the investigations that we did on British Petroleum’s disaster and its international fallout – including the one that could have foretold the April 20th blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, we’re sharing an excerpt from Vultures’ Picnic.
A RUBBER DINGHY OFF THE GULF COAST, MISSISSIPPI, OCTOBER 2010
This was my first investigation of fish homicide, so I figured Rick and I needed a boat because Professor Steiner’s submarine had just cleared the Panama Canal and wouldn’t arrive in time for our filming.
However, Badpenny couldn’t hook up a canoe, let alone a skiff, because BP had put every Coon-Ass captain on its payroll for the oil clean-up, which mostly involved floating around looking busy when CNN showed up. BP would have to OK our taking one of their indentured boats, and BP never said OK unless they controlled the fish story.
But it is my experience with the human animal that cold cash can make people forget about their contracts (and their marriage vows, the Ten Commandments, and all sense of self-respect). Still, the boatmen told Badpenny, “Non, cheri.” BP’s string of cash was longer than mine and that wouldn’t change anytime soon.
Dr. Steiner told us to meet him at a particular dock behind a casino hotel in Biloxi. So we flew into New Orleans and drove to the coast town whose only claim to fame is that it’s three hundred miles due south of the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
Just after sun-up, and without enough coffee, Ricky Ricardo Rowley and I headed through the casino past the exhausted, straggling gamblers who refused to leave until the last of their cash was taken from them.Beyond the slots, a door led out to a dock, where the resourceful Professor Steiner and his crew were waiting for us in a Zodiac, a rubber-hull dinghy bolted to two screaming 150-hp outboards, which could shoot us to the crime scene like a rocket.
Beyond the slots, a door led out to a dock, where the resourceful Professor Steiner and his crew were waiting for us in a Zodiac, a rubber-hull dinghy bolted to two screaming 150-hp outboards, which could shoot us to the crime scene like a rocket.
The biologist aimed for a barrier island a mile offshore, then, a hundred yards from the beach, killed the engine and told Rick and me to jump out. Who was I to question the man? I stepped off, fully clothed, sank right up to my sack, and headed through the yuck to the beach, like MacArthur returning to Bataan.
Rick followed, his baby, his precious camera over his head, still filming, followed by Steiner, who reached the beach and began with a religious invocation: “Holy Christ! Smell that!” I really didn’t need to schlep along a PhD to tell me I was on the edge of throwing up my breakfast.
Black ick, crude oil. The professor’s stunned look, though, surprised me. This man had seen it all: dogs drowning in oil slicks in China, the Caspian cesspool off Baku, Alaska’s dead beaches (where he lives and literally breathed the Exxon Valdez spill), and the oil smear in Africa known as the Niger Delta, where Steiner had been only two days before on some UN mission.
He’d seen it all, but not this. He did not expect viscous tar mats the size of sofas and hardened oil slicks like driveways to nowhere half a year after the blow-out and a hundred miles away from the well head.
Steiner picked up what looked like a large bovine bowel movement and dumped it into my hands. It was a glop of BP’s spume with, he explained, “hydrogen sulphide in it, heavy metals but, also, the polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons. . . .”
Those are my favorites! “…And, you know, things like benzopyrene and benzofluoranthene and suchlike…”
Fish hated the stuff because it killed their children and their children’s children.
“…Very highly toxic, they’re carcinogenic…”
But humans just love the stuff, if you look at the news footage. Right after the Deepwater Horizon blew up, fifty thousand grinning volunteers hit the Gulf Coast beaches and—God Bless America!—picked up the stuff bare-handed, or scooped it with beer buckets, garden rakes, picnic coolers, whatever.
“…It doesn’t kill immediately but lasts, you know, things like nerve damage, physiological injury, behavioral changes, reproductive changes…”
I dropped the tar ball.
* * * * * *
For years, Greg Palast has been uncovering the crude truth about pipelines, drilling and oil spills in investigative reports for BBC Television, The Guardian, and Harper’s.
Later this year, Greg Palast will be releasing his new feature film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy—A Tale of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits, which includes his award-winning investigation Jim Crow Returns about the newest schemes of mass vote-suppression.