My heart sank when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well burned and sank, unleashing the biggest oil spill in our country’s history.
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Photographer Alan Chin / Facing Change for Empreinte Digitale and French TV
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Facing Change for Empreinte Digitale and French TV
Creeping Doom and the Ocean on Fire
Notes from the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
New Orleans, Louisiana: June 16, 2010
After years of coming to Louisiana during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I, like many, had been overjoyed this Mardi Gras, when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl and at long, long last, the feeling in this city was that maybe a corner had finally been turned. It w ...
After years of coming to Louisiana during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I, like many, had been overjoyed this Mardi Gras, when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl and at long, long last, the feeling in this city was that maybe a corner had finally been turned. It was the first time since before the storm that I came to see my friends and have a good time, rather than work and photograph.
So my heart sank when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well burned and sank, unleashing the biggest oil spill in our country’s history. I knew that, unlike natural disaster or war, the impact would not be immediately visible, even though the consequences are just as grave in the long term. I felt no rush to come. Rather, I was depressed at the thought of this region getting battered again, never mind the politics of regulatory failure and corporate greed.
Out on the water, visiting the barrier islands off of Grand Isle and Venice, thousands of birds still fly and nest. Dolphins swim and dance. The long, hot summer sun beats down, relieved only by the artificial breeze created by a motorboat’s engine. If I weren’t here because of this catastrophe, these would be pleasant days in a beautiful environment. But instead there is the inescapable sense of creeping doom.
Everybody is praying for a miracle.
Above the Gulf of Mexico: June 19, 2010
Flying on board a BP-contracted helicopter over the site of the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and its still out-of-control oil spill, the overwhelming sight is of the burning to try and get rid of as much of the oil as possible.
My own photographs look to me almost like the scenes of naval combat from the Second World War: Japanese kamikazes striking American aircraft carriers in the Pacific, or decimated British convoys in the North Atlantic or Mediterranean Sea.
There is no war here, of course, only years of lazy, corrupt oversight and corporate greed. If Afghanistan and Iraq have felt like endless wars, though, the BP oil spill also seems like it will never stop, as the earliest and most optimistic predictions of capping the well are long months away. Two sides of the same coin; both at home and abroad, we are living in a society of paralysis, predicted failure, and incompetence.
The ocean is on fire, and the water below poisoned.
Kenner, Louisiana: August 18, 2010
Ken Feinberg was appointed by President Obama to lead the new Gulf Coast Claims Facility which will compensate the lost livelihoods resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With $20 billion dollars from BP and a government mandate, it is supposed to be beholden to neither, and thus replaces BP’s own claims process which has been fraught with so much confusion and frustration these long last few months.
At a town hall meeting in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu at his side, Feinberg made his first public appearances to explain the new program to the people of the Gulf. From the start, his tone was defensive, as if to apologize for BP’s gaffes so far, and he promised that payments would now be swift and fair, and that he “will not nickel or dime” anybody.
Tentative hope, along with suspicion of bureaucracy, greeted him. One question after another related stories of how BP’s own compensation process has left many small businesses, especially, out in the cold. Of how there was inadequate translation for the Vietnamese-American and other immigrant communities. Of how cash-based arrangements had not been accepted as legitimate income to be remedied. Feinberg fielded the forum with some force and charm. He comes well recommended, after all, with his record administering the process after 9/11.
But an inescapable quandary hangs over the entire program: Feinberg confirmed that people who have been working for BP as part of the clean-up effort will have these earnings deducted from whatever payments they will receive, meaning that someone who has not been working will be compensated of course, yet someone who has been may end up receiving the same. Work, or no work, the same. There seems to be no easy way to slice through this without creating division and hurt no matter how much good will goes into designing the formulas.
Feinburg started his new job officially on Monday morning, August 23. An awful lot hinges on his success or failure.
Versions of this story were originally published at BagNews.
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