I would be a liar to suggest to anyone that I didn’t already have an opinion about the BP oil spill before my trip to Grand Isle. In fact, it was hard not to have my view reinforced after I walked on the beach and saw the extent of damage done to it because of BP’s negligence and the government’s failure in oversight. However, the more I spoke with residents of the community the more I heard of their opposition to the White House’s moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling. When those you are speaking with are of the community it’s impossible not to listen.
On July 22 and July 23 I met several such people.
William Long, 66, a retired obstetrician/GYN has owned his camp for 12 years. He told me that he has fished in Grand Isle since 1968, and normally fished 4-5 days in a week. The oil spill, though, banned fishing for several months.
“I fished for the first time Tuesday,” Long said. Speaking on the level of importance the oil disaster has had on residents he said, “This community is 85% fishing and shrimping.”
Although he said his friends and family have been ok during this time he acknowledged that the oil disaster “has affected them adversely…”
Despite the oil spill and backlash against BP Long said he believed BP has made a good effort in supporting those affected. When asked about people’s criticism of BP’s system of paying claims to businesses and people working in the fishing industry, as well as the clean-up Long said, “It takes a while.” He referenced the tax records used for claims, and the “tremendous potential for fraud.” Long downplayed the presence of oil on the beaches.
“There’s been very little oil here,” he said. Long said the oil seen in Grand Isle was dime sized, and golf ball sized.
On oil drilling Long blamed those who opposed Bush’s desire for oil drilling in Alaska, and other “inshore” sites, to America’s continuing need to drill in offshore zones. If oil companies were permitted to drill in “relatively shallow waters” they would not have to drill in “ultra deep areas,” he said. Long said that states such as Florida, California, and Virginia have areas of oil but are not extracting it to its potential because of any potential environmental impact.
Long believes the Obama administration has used the oil spill as an excuse for their agenda. President Obama has been calling for the use of alternative and cleaner energies, and cited the BP oil disaster as one of the reasons for it.
“I’m very much opposed to this ban on deep-water, offshore drilling,” Long said. “This administration is radical. Ultra-radical.” He was also concerned about the administration’s effect on the community and the country at a time of economic recession, though he termed it more as a “depression.” He later added, “The people right now running the country are absolutely frightening to me.”
Not far from Long’s residence are “Pirate Island Daiquiri” and “Nez Coupe Souvenirs and Tackle.” The two businesses stand across from each other on opposite ends of the street, but their owner has found that the oil spill has affected their business in the area “tremendously.”
Frank Besson, 61, has lived in Grand Isle all of his life. Every time someone said this to me I imagined that person being born, then living through their childhood, high school, and married years in the same town.
“People are just not coming,” Besson said. “All you got are workers on Grand Isle,” he said referring to the clean-up workers. When asked about the financial effects of the oil spill on his businesses he said that Pirate Island Daiquiri has seen its business decrease about 55%. Nez Coupe Souvenirs and Tackle has gone down 95% about in business, Besson said.
Besson, who worked in the oil field for 25 years with Exxon and Conoco, said, “BP took chances and they lost,” he said. “They were trying to save a dollar and they end up spending millions of dollars.”
By the time the numbers are all compiled, I imagined, it will be more than millions.
Despite the spill Besson disagreed with the moratorium on deep-water oil drilling. He believes “they should have never stopped it,” and that rules should have simply been followed. Besson said he believes that both MMS (Minerals Management Service) and BP failed in their duties, and that MMS ought to “get their ass in gear.”
He likened the effects of a moratorium to a chain reaction that would leave people out of work, and be felt for months and beyond.
During that week, the tarpon rodeo week, people would “come down to fish and have a good time,” Besson said. Streets would be bumper to bumper, and his business would usually do fantastic all summer long. Due to the spill, though, the rodeo was cancelled and replaced with an Island Aid Festival. Despite the presence of BP workers in Grand Isle he has not seen much business.
“They’re not spending no money.”