First Anniversary of Gulf Oil Spill

The media looks at BP/Transcocean rig catastrophe on the marine environment and seafood

The Food Channel is releasing a WebTV video that takes a look at the future of seafood following the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil spill, which occurred one year ago, April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. Who can forget the images then — the burning platform, the oil workers’ grieving family members, the fishermen and shrimpers laying booms and sopping up surface oil spill, the oil soaked seabirds, the tarballs on empty white-sand beaches, the marshes thick with mucky oil, the then-CEO Tony Hayward making hollow promises to pay for all the cleanup?

Of all Gulf marine life, oysters are just about the most impacted. The Food Channel crew shot in Louisiana over a 10-day period to catch up with what is happening. “’One of the goals of The Food Channel is to document what is happening in food,” said Kay Logsdon, editor of the cable network, according to a press release. “Obviously the story that has been unfolding over the past year in the Gulf has impact on the future of our seafood. We found out that the oyster is one of the most impacted products of the Gulf, and we wanted to bring that story to life.”

Media Recaps of the Disaster

The New Orleans Times Picayune has been reporting on what’s happened for an entire year. Today’s paper featured an editorial called “BP Shucks Responsibility,” which begins, “BP has repeatedly said that it will make right what was damaged by the Macondo oil spill, but the company doesn’t consider devastated oyster beds to be
part of that responsibility. The state’s decision to open freshwater diversions damaged the beds, and BP is refusing to pay to restore them with cultch, the shell material on which oyster eggs attach and grow.” Macondo?, you ask. Not BP? It’s the kind of code name oil companies use to disguise where they are exploring for oil, and sometimes the name lingers, as it has in site of BP/Transocean’s ill-fated rig.

Celeb chef Emeril Lagasse and Andy Ford, host of the upcoming series about Gulf seafood a year after the BP oil spill.

The TV series, titled “Beneath the Surface: Gulf Seafood’s Fight for Survival,” is hosted by The Food Channel ’s Andy Ford, who spent time on the oyster boats, at the shucking house and cooking with some of New Orleans’ finest chefs while researching the short-form series. “We uncovered a story of resiliency, combined with some of the creativity that is bringing the seafood back to the table,” said Ford. “We think it will give a different picture than a lot of the media coverage that focuses purely on the negative impact of the spill, and open people’s eyes to what the real impact is.”

Click here to see the first part, with several segments set to air during the month of May. Additionally, features on some of the New Orleans’ restaurants, including recipes, will be available on the site.

The Food Channel is not alone in recapping related events this year.  CNN aired report today called “Stories from the Gulf, One Year On.” When I visited Louisiana a few months before the spill, I visited Sal Sunseri, who runs the 135-year-old P&G Oyster Company, his family’s oyster business. CNN reported on an interview with Sunseri:

“On a recent French Quarter spring morning, with the sun shining and the birds singing, Al Sunseri struggled to be cheerful. A year ago, just after the spill, he was still hanging on as best he could to business as usual. After all, P&J Oyster Company had survived a lot of calamities in its 135-year history. He was certain it could weather this one. Now, he’s not so sure.

“‘This was always full,’ he says, pointing to cold storage rooms that now gape empty. ‘Lots of activity going on. Shuckers lined up along this stall. We had around 20 employees, give or take a few.’

“Today the company is down to Sunseri, his brother, and a few part-timers. Rather than reeling in the magnificent hauls of fresh Louisiana oysters prized by top chefs, they now spend almost all their time buying and re-selling oysters from other Gulf states where the impact was less devastating. And they fume about BP’s promises to make everything right in the wake of the spill.

“‘I expected them to follow through on that,’ he says, standing near a now-unused processing table. ‘As time went on, I found out that isn’t what was occurring. And I’ve become angry.’

“Although his attorney won’t let him talk numbers, Sunseri says his business has been reduced to a small fraction of what it once was. A claim filed in November with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the agency set up to handle claims for BP, has finally produced a check, but Sunseri says it was for far less than what he has lost. The top Gulf Coast Claims Facility official, while declining to comment directly on that case, says the organization is continuing to address such complaints and concerns.”

Yeah, right. And oysters can fly — or at least grow in the Arctic Ocean, where, BTW, BP has built an island to accommodated a drilling rig since off-shore drilling is prohibited off Alaska’s coast. As for CEO Tony Hayward and other BP officials, including current CEO Robert Dudley, they reportedly did not receive an annual bonus for 2010, but don’t cry for these executives. In its annual report, BP reported that Hayward and Andy Inglis, once BP’s head of exploration and production who left the company in 2010, received “contractual entitlements of one year’s salary on termination, together with other limited entitlements.”

Hayward’s 2010 salary, converted from pounds, was $1.56 million in 2010, a pittance compared to 2009, when his salary was $1.7 million plus a $3.4 million bonus. And Hayward, who probably should be in jail, remains with the company as director of its oil division in Russia. Meanwhile, Al Sunseri had to lay off most of his crew and might have to close the company altogether. Meanwhile, at BP and other companies involved in offshore exploration and extraction, the motto still seems to be “Drill, Baby, Drill.”