On April 20, 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, which sat about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 others. About 5,000 feet below the surface, oil started gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill lasted for 87 days; over 200 million gallons of oil were released.
Coastal communities are still feeling the effects of the spill. Fishing operations and beach towns shut down for months, and some are still trying to rebound. The people who cleaned up the spill say they have lingering health complications because of it — and many haven't received the financial help they've been waiting for, as HuffPost reported. Every fish tested in the Gulf of Mexico has a trace of oil in it, and many marine populations are still struggling. Fishermen in Mexico, which didn't receive any compensation for the spill, are still being impacted.
About six years after the spill, BP reached a settlement for more than $20 billion — the largest environmental damage settlement in U.S. history. A massive chunk of that is funding projects to restore and protect fisheries, wildlife habitats, and coastal wetlands. At the same time, though, the oil and gas industry is pushing through new projects. As the New York Times reported this week, "production has surpassed pre-accident levels by a few hundred thousand barrels a day, and oil companies brought seven new projects online in 2019." More are planned this year. Offshore safety regulations put in place in the years after the spill have also been rolled back and President Trump's administration is trying to expand offshore drilling in coastal waters, despite the disapproval of state governments and voters.
On the 10th anniversary, organizations along the coast and community members are reflecting on the spill and how to move forward in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, declining oil prices hurting their economies, and changing environmental policies. Carly Berlin wrote a story about how Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, which was overwhelmed with oil during the BP spill, is now facing a new oil and gas project that is raising concernes about public health. She looked at how groups are keeping communities informed as meetings move online.
It's an all-too-familiar story for the American South: The continued use of extractive industries that try to force communities to decide between economy and environment, at the expense of their health and stability. We're here to help tell the stories about that — the ones about resilience, and about challenges, about pollution, and about cleanup.
Stay safe, healthy, and supportive of each other. We have a lot of great work coming in the next few weeks that we hope will help give context to all that's happening.
Carly Berlin will be reporting on Gulf Coast communities for Southerly. Contact her if you have story ideas or tips.
Stories worth your time
Olivia Paschal at Facing South wrote about how Southern communities are dealing with tornado and storm recovery during the pandemic. "It feels like a trial run' for disasters to come," said Benny Becker, who lost power in his Eastern Kentucky home for four days after windstorms knocked down power lines across his county.
For the Texas Observer, Amal Ahmed looked at how recent hurricanes in Texas, which displaced many lower-income communities of color, could impact census data. "This puts a place like Port Arthur at a disadvantage. If a city’s population drops below 50,000, it’s no longer considered an urban area. This different designation means it could lose some of the federal dollars directed toward larger metropolitan areas, including school funding and transportation projects. Port Arthur is on the precipice; in 2010, the city had just over 53,000 residents."
A well-known attorney helped land a $2 billion settlement for Gulf Coast seafood industry workers after the BP oil spill. Problem was, the workers didn't exist. For The Atlantic, Francesca Mari wrote a fascinating story about the confusing world of mass tort lawsuits.
In the latest episode of "Inside Appalachia," listen to the story of a Black community in Charleston, West Virginia called the Triangle District that was demolished in 1974 to build an interstate system.
On Earth Day, Bitter Southerner published a profile of renowned scientist and biodiversity expert E.O. Wilson, who hails from Alabama. From the story by Caleb Johnson: "'The South is a major stronghold of biological diversity,' he says. He gives an example — 24 types of oaks and 126 types of fish exist within the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, which collects river flow from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains further north. 'When these [ecosystems] are destroyed, or even reduced significantly, there’s going to be a loss to the country forever.'”
How Tennessee fails to regulate high-hazard, private dams
As the climate in the Southeast gets warmer and wetter, dam inspectors and experts say changes in regulations are necessary. Read the story.
Non-U.S. citizens with a social security number who live and work in the U.S. — including green card holders and workers using visas such as H-1B and H-2A visas — are eligible to receive stimulus checks. So are immigrants who are DACA recipients or have Temporary Protected Status. But U.S. citizens who married an undocumented immigrant do not. Read the story about how this is affecting immigrants in North Carolina, by Victoria Bouloubasis for Enlace Latino.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is drafting new air and water pollution permits for a coal and natural gas power plant in Mobile County, even though the permits expired years ago. More details on AL.com.
Tennessee lawmakers are urging the president to approve a request for a major disaster declaration to help counties impacted by tornadoes earlier this month, Fox17 reports.
Florence, South Carolina, officials say 800,000 gallons of sewage were discharged into a creek between December and late March after heavy rainfall, according to WPDE.
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