BEYOND PERFECT We were slow to understand the true impact of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010. Yes, 11 lives were lost, but we, in Pensacola, had been lulled into thinking offshore drilling was safe. BP, Halliburton and Transocean surely had the safeguards, right? Those companies had the resources to cap the well and any environmental damage would be minimal, right?
In Tallahassee, our Republican-controlled legislature had spent weeks convincing itself and the public that offshore drilling was necessary for homeland security. “Drill, baby, drill” was the mantra as bills opening up Florida’s Gulf waters to drilling were flying through the committee process. We were told that drilling technology was so good that spills didn’t happen anymore.
So when the April 20 explosion happened, it was only a hiccup…until reality sank in.
The well could not be capped. The video and pictures looked like “Dante’s Inferno,” with flames, pillars of smokes and boats trying to frantically contain oil slicks that were miles long. As the crude hit the marshes and beaches of Louisiana, we began to worry about what happened to our shorelines and bays.
BP stepped in immediately and took responsibility for the clean up. Its public relations campaign went into high gear with promises to “make it right” and to do whatever it took to make people and businesses whole and repair the damage caused.
But they lied to us, unabashedly lied to us. Nearly everything that BP told us has subsequently been found to be untrue. The oil giant knew that the Deepwater Horizon well could produce 100,000 barrels a day, but they told the public that only 5,000 barrels were “leaking” daily out of the broken well pipe.
BP never told us that the “top hat” and “top kill” attempts to cap the well had extremely slim chances for success. It was all “ponies and balloons” to pacify an angry, anxious public and slow the freefall of its stock value.
The companies bragged about the miles of boom, Vessels of Opportunity Program and its claims process knowing that the boom would be ineffective, the VOP was riddled with favoritism, and claims were being denied on a regular basis.
BP’s spin campaign was worse outside of the area. Television and print ads were running throughout the country touting its efforts to clean up our region. The company paid for July 4 fireworks shows as far away as Colorado to build public goodwill. I found stories planted in newspapers about how great BP’s community outreach centers were.
The role of the IN throughout the crisis was to find the truth. With limited resources, we worked long hours, traveled from Tallahassee to Eunice, La. to find answers. With the help of The Daily Beast, Keith Olbermann and the national and international news networks, we were able to get the story out about what was really happening here.
We publicly confronted BP officials at press conferences and got kicked out of more than our fair share of meetings. If we were at a meeting, BP knew it.
Did we make a difference? I hope we did.