I landed today in New Orleans not knowing exactly what I was walking into. I’ve been reading and studying up on the spill, the anticipated trajectory, the looming devastation it will have on the coastal economy and also the people whose lives will be forever changed by our addiction to fossil fuels.
In an effort to get a lay of the land and also perhaps glimpse President Obama while he visited ground zero before one of the largest environmental disasters of our time reached shore, I carpooled down to see Venice, Louisiana for myself this afternoon.
We missed Obama, but lucked out when we met Kip, a shrimper for 26 years who was watching the impending oil slick with trepidation. He told us about how shrimping is not only his livelihood and the livelihood of his friends and community, but it was his life. Already, shrimpers aren’t allowed to collect their harvest on the east bay and if the oil spill reaches as far and wide as expected, the spill will not only mark the end of this season (which only recently began), but could spell out the future of a dry spell for one of the most economically important industries in the Gulf for years to come.
Kip was concerned about this scenario as he spoke about Venice as the jewel of the Gulf. Not only was he concerned about what would happen to the marshes and reeds once oil seeped through them, but he knew many of his fellow fishermen and shrimpers were being hired by BP to clean up the mess once it hit shore. Knowing the clean up process will end (and possibly the jobs with it), the question remains about the health of an ecosystem and industry so many in Louisiana come to depend on to put food on the table.
Oil rigs catching fire or exploding is something Kip’s seen before while living and working along the Louisiana, but this time was different. The speed and quantity of the oil bubbling out of the water was too fast, is still too fast. He’s hopeful that the dispersant chemicals being used at the leak site will work, but also know the oil and chemical soup will remain in the Gulf’s ecosystem no matter how many gallons of dispersant are used. The oil will at some point sink to the ocean floor and just be out of sight, out of mind to many.
He knows America needs oil and knows it employs a number of people from the local communities, but he wants to see that oil go in someone’s tank and not the ocean floor where it destroys the ecosystem necessary for his business. He thinks oil companies like BP should be forced to prepare for every possible scenario when it comes to offshore drilling and there should be a number of safeguards, not one valve hinging on ending a massive disaster.
Kip said that he knows nature is resilient, just like the fishing community he’s lived in his entire life. They’ve seen floods, hurricanes, and other disasters disturb their way of life, but they’ve survived, picked themselves up and gone back to work. But they can only take so much and the wetlands and depleted marshes surrounding the Louisiana coastline can only take so much. Kip knows this situation is man-made and affects lives and jobs beyond his own. He sees people from around the country coming to Venice to try and help, people helping people, which reminds him of the support the community received after Katrina.
It’s too early to tell how widely the devastation from the BP oil explosion will be felt, but Kip questions how his reputation as providing the best shrimp in the country will fair and whether people will trust the seafood coming from the Gulf after this. He knows his crop and believes it will bounce back, but if it doesn’t and if customers distrust the safety of his catch, his years as a shrimper could be over along with the rest of the region’s fishing jobs. He’s hopeful, but perhaps realistic knowing that a scenario he never could have dreamed of happening is coming true before his eyes.