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Dealing with the devil

by Guest Blogger

May 12, 2010

Andre Muggiati is a campaigner from Greenpeace Brazil visiting the USA. He provided us with this first-hand account of going out and documenting the oil washing up on beaches in the Gulf of Mexico.

We started the morning going to a marine shop to buy the charts we needed to go off the coast and look for oil on the beaches. The guy from the shop, Mark, was curious about what we were doing there, and we told him we are from Greenpeace.

By the charts we requested, he knew we were there for the BP Deepwater Disaster oil spill, which led him to tell us, “We’ve been making a living off the oil industry, supplying them, for the last 20 years. At what cost?”

We could see all the concern about the tragedy in his face. But when I asked him his name and post at the shop (I presume he is the manager), he asked me not to mention that. “It could be bad for business.” So they will keep making money out of oil…

You can’t stay here

Gulf oil spill washes up on beach
VENICE, LA – A glob of washed up oil sits on the shore near Port Eads, Louisiana, May 10, 2010. Greenpeace found the first traces of oil onshore at Port Eads, the southernmost tip of Louisiana. Dan Howells, Deputy Director of Campaigns at Greenpeace, and conservation specialist Rick Steiner collected samples of the oil on the beach and documented what they saw with photographs. The oil onshore at Port Eads shows that it is reaching the mouth of the Mississippi, putting even more species of Louisiana’s coastal habitats at risk—including animal and plant species that thrive only in these wetlands. Click here for more news and photos about the oil spill, plus ways you can take action to prevent the next spill. Photo by Dan Howells/Greenpeace.

Then we were off in the harbor, in Venice, LA, and headed into the mouth of the Mississipi, with a videographer from Reuters and a reporter from National Public Radio. A few miles away, we already see the thing is coming right into the river. Scary. The booms are extending everywhere. A bit later, we see workers from BP collecting sand from the beach. We have to stay behind the booms, about 100 feet (some 25 meters) from the beach. Rick Steiner, the specialist who is working with Greenpeace here, still notices a large dark spot on the coast.

As we try to approach the boom as much as we can (we can’t cross it), we hear a loud horn. A minute later a boat full of unidentified people approach us and tell us we can’t stay there.

We think, “They don’t have authority to say that!” and keep photographing the cleaning. We decide to go further, but then the Marine Guard approach us (probably warned by the unidentified guys).

“Bla bla bla, you can’t stay here, you can’t move forward, you will interfere with the cleaning .” How? We are soooo far away! But we obey.

As we leave the spot, we stop to ask to the guys in the first boat who they are.

“Are you guys working for BP?”

They hesitate, but say, “Yes.”

“Is this work to clean the beach?”

“You have to go back to town and ask the guys with the papers.”

Well, transparency is definitely not the word, here.

We stop at a beach just nearby, where our folks found the oil yesterday. Although I know I came here to see this, it is really shocking to see the oil spots in the sand as soon as we get off the boat. But it gets worse, as we see that the oil has been retained by the reeds, all over, as the tide went down.

I ask Rick Steiner, “ Is this just the tip of the iceberg?”

“Yes,” he says, “this is probably the first oil that leaked after the accident and it is reaching these beaches now. Even if they contained the leakeage today, there are at least 5 million gallons of oil down there, ready to resurface anywhere, just like this.”

This is terrible to hear. What’s worse is that the hurricanes season is coming and might bring up the oil that is in the water and spread it in the Mississipi delta. That’s the horriffic scenario we’re facing.

The lawyer wars

As I arrived at the hotel, last night, it was disgusting to see the advertising on the TV, where a lawyer was offering his services to the oil victims. It is even toll free. “ If you feel harmed and you are losing money in your business, call us now!” he says. It is directed to businesses, restaurants, fishermen, anyone. Very greedy.

On the other hand, BP is paying $5,000 to each fisherman, clearly with the intention of avoiding such suits. They were even asking them to sign a paper saying they would not sue BP, but stoped doing it, after the thing was publicized.

In another legal battle that seems to be starting, people are opening suits against BP and asking the government to make them stop throwing oil dispersants into the gulf. “Last weekend we could smell it from the docks”, a businessman told me. According to Rick Steiner, dispersants are as toxic as oil and have the only objective of sinking the oil, avoiding it rising to the surface as an oil slick. Good for the birds, bad for the fish. Worse for the environment.

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