Louisiana remembers the BP oil spill 5 years later

Louisiana remembers the BP oil spill 5 years later

GRAND ISLE, LA (WAFB) - Monday marks five years since the BP oil spill devastated the Gulf Coast, as millions of barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Fishermen and many species are still struggling to recover.

Eleven people died in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that led to the spill. Gordon Jones, 28, of Baton Rouge, and Keith Manuel, 56, of Gonzalez, were among the victims.

Gov. Bobby Jindal issued the following statement Monday morning:

"Five years ago today, eleven honorable men were taken from us far too soon in the tragic Deepwater Horizon explosion off of our coast. This year, as we reflect upon each individual who lost their lives that fateful day, our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of these men. They worked tirelessly for countless hours on the rig to provide for their families, and their work helped drive an industry that supports thousands more families across our state. Although they are no longer with us, they will forever be in our memory. The images of oil-drenched wildlife and marshes have been seared into our memories, but our spirit and perseverance are stronger than ever before. As we look back over these past five years, we have seen our coast continue to rebound from the oil-battered wetlands and beaches we saw in the months after the spill. Although we will not know the full extent of the damage until a final assessment is completed, response and recovery efforts are ongoing, and scientists say our habitats and ecosystems are slowly coming back. However, there is more work to do as oil continues to wash ashore here in our state - and we won't stop working until our coast and wetlands are fully restored."

It was the largest oil spill in US history and one of the largest disasters to rattle Louisiana's beloved coast. Now, five years later, there are efforts to make sure another BP-like oil spill never happens again.

"How can we solve these problems before they become problems?" asked Randall Hughes with PERTT Lab. "As far as the students, what they see and what they do, they do full scale operations for well control. So, drilling operations and how to manage wells, things like that on the full scale."

On their way to becoming the next generation of drilling operators, students are undergoing rigorous well control courses with one singular but critical goal.

"Essentially, the very basics to passing the class is shutting the well," Hughes said.

In 2010, BP's Macando well gushed oil into the Gulf for nearly three months straight, spewing thousands of barrels of oil every day.

"You see issues like BP Macando, some other spill, and some other blowouts and everything like that. It's very important to have as many people as possible who can recognize the signs and identify problems," Hughes explained.

It's a spill everyone hopes to never have to see again and a disaster these students hope their training at LSU can prevent.

"It's kind of developed a younger generation of thinkers, as far as, let's make sure that everyone's on the same page with well control," Hughes added.

The waves still crash, the families still play, but half a decade after the historic spill, it is a very different Grand Isle.

"Everything looks pretty good," said Dale Hutchinson. "I was just walking the beach. I seen a tar ball almost the size of a brick. It's still out there. It's still coming in."

Millions of gallons of BP's crude oil coated the Gulf Coast and traces of that oil is still too easy to come by.

"There's two things to do down here. You come here to fish or lay on the beach. The fish ain't here and the beach is full of those tar balls you got in your hand," Hutchinson explained.

"The kids...I often wonder is it safe for them to be in there. They go, you know, but it's still in the back of your mind," he added.

BP recently released their five-year assessment of the spill, saying the Gulf has rebounded quicker and more naturally than anticipated.

"I mean, that's something you have to say, you know. They're trying to get it right with the public and trying to save theyself, you know. Good faith. I mean...no," Hutchinson said.

The Louisiana coast is already vulnerable to one of the worst types of natural disasters.

"Just think when we get a hurricane. We'll have Lord knows how many on the island," Hutchinson added.

Only time will tell the true impact of the spill.

Pictures of oiled wildlife are forever engrained in Louisiana's history. There are claims the Gulf Coast has rebounded remarkably, but not everyone in Louisiana agrees with that assessment. Some business owners in Grand Isle and all across the coast say their way of life will never be the same after the oil spill hit them hard financially.

Dean Blanchard said his Grand Isle seafood shop operated seven days a week for 30 years until the oil spill.

"We started closing because we went from 100 employees down to 14," Blanchard said.

Before the spill, Blanchard said he raked in annual sales of up to $40 million. Now, five years later, he's lucky to bring in $15 million.

"I take some of my inheritance and some of my savings and cash them in every once in a while. I cashed in $300,000 worth of bonds last year to make it through," he explained.

In BP's five-year report that was released in March, the company claims the Gulf is "rebounding quickly" and more resilient than it thought.

"They're making a commercial saying it's rebounding faster than what we thought! (Laughs) We call BP 'British Pinnochio' down here, you know. They're a bunch of liars. If you spilled something in the water, if you hurt anybody, wouldn't you expect you hurt a guy like me? I make my living off the water. In five years, not one person from BP ever came to my office and tried to talk to me and settle this - not one, never," Blanchard added.

And while it's hard for Blanchard to see anything getting better anytime soon, he said there's still no other place to be.

"I'm still here. This is my life, man. I'm probably the largest single landowner down here," Blanchard said.

Some of the most iconic images from the BP oil spill are those oiled brown pelicans, dead dolphins and tar balls on beaches.

"It's important to remember that a lot of that oil is not floating on the surface," said Philippe Cousteau with EarthEcho. "It is not sticking to the marshes. But, it is existing... down at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico."

Scientists are still studying the long term effects of the spill.

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