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The conversation: One year since the BP oil spill, but still a long way from recovery

April 20, 2011 |  4:48 pm

Oil-SpillIt's been one year since BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded. Eleven workers were killed. Some of those who make a living off the sea and the land went into financial ruin. And it devastated the environment and the delicate ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico. Today's theme: Just because you can't see the oil doesn't mean it isn't there; and just because the media have shifted their attention to other critical issues doesn't mean the disaster has vanished into thin air.

Here are 10 reasons to still be mad about the oil spill, care of Mother Jones, and nine lessons learned, from the Weekly Standard [via NPR],  including:

Based on the Gulf oil spill, we also learned that the Obama administration is prone to empty gestures and political grandstanding in the midst of what is perceived to be a national emergency.

When the leak stopped, so did our interest. Charles Wohlforth, author of "The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering Our Ability to Rescue the Earth," wrote an Op-Ed for our Opinion pages Wednesday, saying:

But the oil wasn't gone, and it still isn't. Tar balls are washing around the gulf. Marshes are dying. Scientists say it's still too early to know the greatest share of the spill's environmental damage. […]

The nation flits from one spectacle to the next with ever-accelerating speed, but the processes of nature unfold at their same, deliberate pace. Quick, superficial information alienates us from the ecosystems that sustain life, and that's made it more difficult to solve environmental problems. […]

We can't count on the federal government to stop disasters, because we can't count on the media or ourselves to pay attention to all the risks that face us as a nation. But community by community, we can watch over our own land and water. And we can demand that the nation respect our decisions.

For oil companies, business-as-usual makes headway, writes Meteor Blades for Daily Kos.

Like the wealthy seeking tax cuts, no matter how much you do for the oil companies, no matter how much you cooperate with their demands, it's never enough. The doctrine of divine right of kings has nothing on these guys. If only you'd make all those regulations voluntary and stop actually reading those permit applications, everything would be hunky-dory. Just ask Rep. Darrell Issa, who claims that the Obama administration has assaulted communities in the Gulf with its drilling policies.

But, writes the New York Times editorial board, Congress hasn’t done enough.

Yet Congress is behaving as if nothing at all happened, as if there were no lessons to draw from the richly documented chain of errors and regulatory shortcomings that contributed to the blowout. […]

BP will pay a high price for its negligence. But this is a rich and powerful industry long accustomed to getting its way.

If Congress chooses to keep enabling the oil barons, rather than demanding that they change their ways, the lessons of the gulf disaster will be wasted. And America’s waters will remain at risk.

Louisiana's seafood industry is finally starting to rebound, writes Danny Heitman for our Opinion pages:

The good news, one year after the oil spill, is that Louisiana's seafood industry is rebounding from the accident. The federal government has concluded that the seafood from our waters is safe to eat. But the long-term impact of the spill on the ecological health of the gulf will take longer to sort out. For the families and loved ones of the 11 people who died when the BP oil rig exploded, life will never be the same.

It will most likely take the people longer to find their way. In a piece for Time, Bryan Walsh writes about the biggest casualty of the oil spill: metal health.

When the Exxon Valdez ran ashore in Prince William Sound in 1989, the immediate focus was on the damage that millions of gallons of oil might do to the pristine Alaskan waters. And, indeed, the toll was terrible: an estimated 250,000 birds died because of the spill, and the sound's productive fisheries took years to fully recover from the pollution. Even today, you can find leftover oil on the rocky islands of the sound.

Yet there was another long-lasting impact from the spill: the mental health of the nearby community. Alcoholism, domestic abuse, stress and divorce all skyrocketed in the wake of the disaster, and the wounds were slow to heal. A recent study found that levels of stress among those Alaskans who were involved in litigation over the oil spill were as high in 2009 as they were in 1991. The oil spill was, as sociologist Steven Picou termed it, a "constantly renewing disaster."

Now, a year after the Gulf oil spill, there are concerns that even though the ecological effects of the accident aren't as great as initially feared, residents along the coast might suffer the same fate their predecessors in Alaska did. A forthcoming study of Gulf Coast residents affected by the spill — conducted by Picou, Liesel Ritchie of the University of Colorado and Duane Gill of Oklahoma State University — found that one-fifth of respondents qualified as being under severe stress, and one-fourth were in moderate stress. Those numbers are comparable to stress levels in the Prince William Sound area a few months after the Valdez spill.


BP oil spill: Not America's worst environmental disaster after all?

Personal stories: The oil might not be as visible, but the residents are still coping the oil spill

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Illustration: Anthony Russo / For The Times

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