BP’s Deepwater Horizon Spill Claimants Still Struggling Four Years Later

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill BP

Four years after the now-infamous BP (NYSE:BP) Deepwater Horizon oil spill, citizens of Grand Isle, Louisiana are still seeing oil wash up on their beaches, and many are frustrated with claims and advertisements by the company, which contend that the gulf is clean and the crisis is over, according to a Reuters report Friday.

The spill, which began with an explosion on April 20, 2010, killed eleven workers, sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and unleashed an uncontrolled well which gushed oil for eighty-seven days. By the time the well was officially sealed and the flow was stopped at the end of September of that year, it was estimated that about 200 million gallons of oil had polluted the ocean; the spill is the largest ever recorded in U.S. history.

Reuters spoke with Jules Melancon, the last remaining oyster fisherman on the island, who says he still hasn’t found a single live oyster in his leases since the BP spill; now, he relies on an onshore oyster farm to make his living. “They got an advert on TV saying they fixed the Gulf but I’ve never been fixed,” Melancon said in the interview with Reuters. Melancon was compensated by BP, but claims that the sum was inadequate given the damages.

Grand Isle, an island 50 miles south of New Orleans, was one of the most affected areas following the spill, and BP’s payouts have created tensions between those residents who have received compensation and those who haven’t. Meanwhile, the island has struggled to attract tourists, and all but one of the island’s restaurants has closed. On the beaches at Grand Isle, Reuters reports, streaks of oil and tar balls, which contain the most toxic form of oil, still litter the seashore. According to a BP spokesman, however, none of these remnants of the spill threaten human health.

BP has spent more than $26 billion on the Deepwater Horizon spill’s cleanup, as well as fines and compensation for those affected, a number which amounts to more than a third of the company’s total revenue in 2013, according to Reuters. Even still, not everyone is compensated; just twenty in every 3,000 claims for failed businesses have been paid thus far.

In recent months, however, BP has begun to challenge the way the settlement process is being handled, arguing that claimants need to prove that their losses were caused by the spill. When it was suggested that the company’s arguments were causing it to lose goodwill, and could be counter-productive, the company responded with a statement saying that its efforts “to assure the integrity of the claims process” had been misrepresented but that it would continue to defend itself “in the face of absurd awards made to claimants whose alleged losses have no apparent connection to the spill,” according to Reuters.

It’s not just fishermen and farmers that have suffered from the enduring impact of the spill, either. Al and Sal Sunseri, owners of P&J Oysters, the oldest oyster company in the United States, say they have been unable to claim any kind of compensation since the spill. “BP ruined our business,” Al said in an interview with Reuters. “All the money they’ve spent on this marketing thing, and, it’s like, we don’t even have anything to market.” The Sunseris say they are handling about 55-60 percent of the oysters they handled before the spill. Jon Blanchard, who owns the country’s largest shrimp business, says he’s currently handling just 15 percent of the shrimp he did before the spill.

In addition to claimants struggling to make ends meet, questions regarding the safety of Gulf coast seafood continue to arise. According to a study published in March by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration found that the BP oil spill has caused “serious defects” in the embryos of fish harvested from the Gulf.

It remains unclear what the long term affect of the spill will be on fish populations, and the shoreline itself.

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