Where are all the casualties?

Eleven men died April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon failed to properly abandon a well in the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Canyon. So far as I’ve been able to find out, the rig hands’ bodies or other remains have never been recovered. You’ll hear that the oil is gone now and all is well, but we don’t know what happened to those 11 men, risking their lives on an understaffed, poorly-maintained offshore drilling rig. More to the point we don’t know what’s happened to the whales, dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, gulls, fish, rays and other sealife and marsh life affected by this spill. What we do know is where the damn oil is: everywhere.

It’s still early in damage assessments, but so far about 600 miles of coast has been fouled with oil. The official government death toll so far: 3,606 birds, 508 endangered sea turtles and 67 marine mammals. More than 2,100 birds, turtles and marine mammals have been found oiled, but alive.

But those are only the losses seen. Scientists suspect many more animals have died, but their bodies have not been found.
Federal and BP officials are scurrying to conduct damage assessments from the spill. The first and crucial step to such assessments is figuring out the condition of the Gulf before the spill. It’s also key in calculating just how much BP will have to pay.

“A baseline is the medical history of the environment,” said Smithsonian scientist Nancy Knowlton. “Without a baseline you can’t say anything about what the impact of anything is.”

Emphasis mine: the bodies haven’t been found. The effects of the disaster aren’t known, and what role the dispersants used so freely in this biggest-of-all well blowouts — a mess that dwarfs not merely Exxon Valdez but Ixtoc 1 — will have in the environmental impact is even less known.

BP famously fought to keep photos of oil-covered wildlife out of the news, and in June the US government expanded a “no-fly” zone over the Gulf — why? Everybody from a real-estate company to Louisiana shrimpers have filed suits, some against Halliburton or Transocean, many against BP. But what about the lives lost, whose survivors no lawyer will court? What about the fish, the whales, the crustaceans, the birds, the rays, the dolphins? What of the future of the Gulf? We don’t know. What do we know? Oil companies are running hard to protect their profits — and the people who live along the shores of this impact zone depend on those oil companies for jobs.


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