A week from today will mark the one-year anniversary of the oil rig explosion of Deepwater Horizon that triggered the largest marine oil spill in history. For three months, rust-colored sludge gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, and by the time BP managed to stop the leak, at least 4.9 million barrels of crude oil had coated the ocean floor for miles around the oil rig and the slick spanned hundreds of miles across the ocean's surface. Environmental experts estimated that the damage to coastal ecosystems and marine wildlife would be nothing short of catastrophic. But if you listen to BP and the Obama administration, it's all fixed now.
Not true, say several British papers who are reporting that the progress in the Gulf is far from a full recovery. Citing the University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye, The Guardian explores how claims from the White House that all oil had been cleaned up as early as December conflict directly with independent scientists' recent findings: blankets of oil coating the ocean floor as far as ten miles from the site of the leak. Meanwhile, most parties involved are trying to put the oil spill behind them. BP is almost finished reimbursing the victims—though they've only paid $3.6 billion out of the allotted $20 billion—and the company's clean up efforts are winding down. The @BP_America Twitter feed is ripe with encouraging news from calls to vacation on the now spic-and-span Florida coast to links citing a dramatic recovery in Louisiana. While the government's official stance stops short of claiming a full recovery, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) disputes Joye's claims that oil lurked in the Gulf's depths. Joye, who will soon publish a paper with her findings, says the symptoms of continuing problems are just too bold to ignore:
So how could the disaster possibly be over, asks Joye. "You talk to people who live around the Gulf of Mexico, who live on the coast, who have family members who work on oil rigs. It's not OK down there. The system is not fine. Things are not normal. There are a lot of very strange things going on – the turtles washing up on beaches, dolphins washing up on beaches, the crabs. It is just bizarre. How can that just be random consequence?"
More than 150 dolphins, half of them infants, have washed up since the start of 2011. At least eight were smeared with crude oil that has been traced to BP's well, NOAA said, and 87 sea turtles – all endangered – have been found dead since mid-March.
The Daily Mail's report is no less damning. Anticipating an aggressive assault from environmental authorities at an annual meeting tomorrow, BP has employed a 2,000-strong task force to defend the company from critics, reports the paper. Corroborating Joye's claims, many of those critics believe that BP's use of toxic dispersant Corexit simply sent the oil to the ocean floor, and coastal communities can expect a new coating of oil on their beaches any time a storm stirs it up. The BBC released a video today of one of those community members, a family of oystermen whose business was destroyed by the oil spill.
So what's the American press reporting? Fairly misleading accounts of progress, it seems. The New York Times followed last week's story about how the spill left "emotional rather than physical scars" and the paper followed up today with an article about the "Gulf's complexity and resilience" that skirts around the question of damage by saying that the Gulf is simply complicated. The Wall Street Journal cites scientists saying it's "too soon" to know the toll of the damage.
The difference in perspectives seems telling. But hey, America still has a week before the actual anniversary.