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Antonia Juhasz: BP’s “Missing Oil” Washes Up in St. Mary’s Parish, LA

StoryAugust 04, 2010
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We speak with independent journalist Antonia Juhasz, who is just back from Louisiana, where she found what she calls some of BP’s “missing oil” on the wetlands and beaches along the waterways near St. Mary’s Parish, where no one is booming, cleaning, skimming or watching. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz is also with us in Washington, DC, author of The Tyranny of Oil. You have just come back from the Gulf of Mexico. You’re writing a book on what’s happened there, Antonia. Can you talk about what you found in the Gulf, in St. Mary’s Parish, and where that is?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah. St. Mary’s Parish is one bayou over from Venice Beach area, which is the focus of a lot of the coverage of where the oil has been coming ashore and where a lot of the oil impact has been. So it’s one bayou over. And I went down there to attend a BP community forum that was held Thursday night. And at this forum, the parish president announced that St. Mary’s Parish doesn’t have oil, has never had oil, and won’t have oil hitting its shores. As soon as he said that, he was immediately surrounded by fishermen. And one of the fishermen said, “Well, if that’s true, then why does Kermit have oil in his bag right now?” And one of the fishermen, everyone turned to him, and he said, “You know, I was just out on the water, like I’ve been every day, looking for oil, and I saw oil, and I’ve seen oil. And we’ve been telling you that there’s oil.” At that point, the microphone was turned off, and, you know, essentially all hell broke loose. And the Coast Guard, which was there, went over to this fisherman and said, you know, “If you saw oil, show us where you saw the oil.” And they went over and they looked at maps, and he showed them where the oil was. And they were very concerned.

And then I, the next day, went out with him, and we spent five hours going along the coast of Oyster Bayou to Taylor Bayou in his boat, and what I saw was oil, waves of oil that had washed in. They had clearly washed in, because it was — you could see the wave effect. It was over the wetlands, grass, grassy areas, just coated in waves of oil that had hit. We went to beaches that were covered with tar balls. And, you know, this is not an unusual sight. Anyone who’s been watching TV has seen these sights. What was completely unusual, in my experience over three months of time going down to the Gulf, is that there was no one around. There were no cleanup workers. There was no boom. There was no evidence that anyone had any concern about this oil. And, in fact, that’s what we found out, that the Coast Guard then reported, after it went and looked at these locations, that it wasn’t enough to worry about. And that didn’t make any sense to the fishermen who I spoke to and the fisherman I was with, who said, “One, this is oil that is in and around where we live, where we fish, at the heart of our livelihood, which is this Oyster Bayou. And also, this is oil coating” — and I saw it — “the marshlands, the wetlands,” which is, you know, when the oil gets into the grass, if it stays there, it can kill the root system. If it kills the root system, it kills the wetlands. If it kills the wetlands, there’s no barrier to, one, the oil getting further in and, two, more importantly in this area, hurricane provision and hurricane protection.

And this is also completely out of whack with what BP had been doing previously, in my experience, which is, wherever you saw oil, there wasn’t far behind a BP cleanup crew that would clean it up. Of course, the oil would just wash back on, and then they’d come back and they’d clean it up again. What is astounding, from my experience, is that it is evidence of what we’re hearing and seeing all across the Gulf, which is the cleanup apparatus being pulled away and removed. And the reason to do that is just as these — the press reports are saying, if the oil is out of sight, it’s out of mind. We know it’s out of sight, primarily, one, because the well is capped — thank goodness — but two, that it’s been dispersed. It’s been dispersed, and we can’t see it. And if BP can pull up its cleanup crews and show that everything is OK, the idea is that it would significantly limit the potential liability that BP faces. If it can say about the oil-soaked areas that I saw, “Oh, that’s insignificant,” then they’re not liable for cleanup, not liable for the consequences to that community — at least, I imagine that’s what they would argue — in St. Mary’s Parish. Of course, they should be, and are, but that seems to be the logic, and it’s devastating to see it taking shape on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, you’re in Washington, DC, up from the Gulf of Mexico, because the Senate is expected to take up energy spill legislation today. Quickly explain what that is.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, they’re not, so — what was supposed to happen was two waves of legislation. One was the climate legislation that was supposed to happen addressing the ravages of climate change. That got pushed aside. What was initially supposed to happen was that the climate legislation that was on the table was going to now include spill response legislation, capping — or eliminating the cap on liability for oil companies involved in disasters like this, maintaining the moratorium put in place by the Obama administration, oversight and regulatory measures to the Interior Department, a lot of very good provisions that are needed to address making sure a disaster like this doesn’t happen and making sure — in the future, and making that BP actually is held liable for what it’s done. First, the climate package was pulled. It was felt there wouldn’t be votes for that. Then, just last night, where there was supposed to be a Senate spill bill that was supposed to come through today, that got pulled yesterday, because there weren’t going to be enough votes — just for that, this very small, very simple, very limited measure that would have been the only congressional response at this point, legislatively at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly — we have fifteen seconds — BP planning to sell $30 billion in assets?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, BP is starting a fire sale to get rid of $30 billion worth of itself to try and consolidate its operations. My concern about that is, who’s going to buy those pieces? Exxon and Chevron have said they’re in the market. They’ve actually said they’re interested in potentially buying BP. And that would be disastrous, in my mind, in terms of further concentration and wealth and political influence being put into an ever-smaller number of corporate hands. Most disconcerting, we heard that — there’s a rumor that the Obama administration may be —-

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: —- signaling a green light to such a potential change — something we want to make sure doesn’t happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz and Jerry Cope, thanks so much for joining us.

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