Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 14th 2018


BP Oil Spill: Two Years Later

Facts aren’t as glowing as BP ads
by Jeremy Morrison

It’s been two years since the oil spill and all is well. BP says so.

For months leading up to the second anniversary this month of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP has lavished the airwaves with sparkling ads touting the region’s recovery. The company reports that the oil has been cleaned from the pristine beaches and restoration efforts are underway.

BP spokesperson Isis Cross strolls leisurely through the commercial, reassuring everyone around the country that the Gulf Coast is just fine. Open for business. Come on down, y’all.

“I was born here,” she says. “I’m still here. And so is BP.”

The irony in the BP spokeswoman’s words is haunting. BP’s oil disaster was born here, too. It’s still here. The question is what is it doing to the Gulf Coast?

“Now, there’s a lot going on out there in the Gulf that we don’t know,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) informed an early morning collection of local officials recently.

Early Studies Alarming

In an upstairs boardroom at Pensacola State College, the senator talked about the killifish—“it roots around in the sand, out in the marsh”—and about how researchers have pegged the unfortunate fish as an early victim of spill. A study recently showed that the killifish’s cellular function has been altered in ways predictive of developmental abnormalities. In short, the species is having difficulty reproducing.

“The study is alarming because similar health effects seen in fish, sea otters and harlequin ducks following the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska were predictive of population impacts—from decline to outright collapse,” National Wildlife Federation senior scientist Doug Inkley said last fall when the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Senator Nelson appeared alarmed about the killifish findings, as well. He said continued study of the Gulf region must be done in an ongoing effort to determine the unfolding tolls of the spill.

“If that’s happening to a little fish that is part of the food chain in a marsh,” he asked, “what does that portend to the overall health of the Gulf? We just don’t know.”

Researchers have been studying the impacts of the oil spill since before the first waves of Louisiana crude hit shore. Gradually, their emerging studies are contributing pieces to an overall disturbing puzzle.

Linda Hooper-Bui, an entomologist with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, has been studying insects and spiders inhabiting coastal Louisiana marsh grass. She spends her days sweating in the swamps collecting bugs in a net, or with a vacuum.

“Just got off the water, actually,” she answered the phone last week. “Three days worth of work—I’m kind of wasted.”

The LSU researcher is concerned about the ants or, the lack thereof. She’s been studying about 20 sites around coastal Louisiana since before the oil spill. Some of the sites received oil damage, while others did not.

“We’ve gradually watched the population of ants decline in the oiled areas,” Hooper-Bui said, adding that the result was to be expected. “Eventually, when you have a stressor in the ecosystem you start to see that effect on what we call ‘higher trophic levels.’”

Surprising Finds

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