Gulf of Mexico oil spill reinforces the industry’s bad will for American Indians
By The Associated Press
May 18, 2010, 6:55AM
Like many American Indians on the bayou, Emary Billiot blames oil companies for ruining his ancestral marsh over the decades. Still, he’s always been able to fish — but now, with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, even that is not a certainty.
An oil spill — 5 million gallons and counting — spreading across the Gulf of Mexico has closed bays and lakes in Louisiana’s bountiful delta, including fishing grounds that feed the last American-Indian villages in three parishes. It is a bitter blow for the tribes of south Louisiana who charge that drilling has already destroyed their swamps and that oil and land companies illegally grabbed vast areas.
“Once the oil gets in the marshes, it’s all over, that’s where your shrimp spawn,” said Billiot, a wiry fisherman with tough hands, his fingernails caked with bayou dirt. “Then we’re in trouble,” he said in a heavy French-Indian accent.
In the month since an offshore drilling platform exploded, killing 11 workers, BP PLC has struggled to stop the leak from a blown-out underwater well. Over the weekend, engineers finally succeeded in using a stopper-and-tube combination to siphon some of the gushing oil into a tanker.
In Pointe-Au-Chien, 60-year-old Sydney Verdin felt a tingle of vengeful satisfaction at BP PLC’s misfortune over the oil spill.
“I’m happy for the oil spill. Now the oil companies are paying for it the same way we’ve had to pay for it,” said Verdin, disabled by a stroke, as he sat in his living room and watched his grandchildren play.
Even before the leak, oil’s influence on the south Louisiana landscape was unmistakable. Signs warning about underground pipelines are everywhere. So are plastic poles in canals to show the pipelines’ location. Out in the marsh, oil and gas facilities are often the only lights visible at night.
Since the 1930s, oil and natural gas companies dug about 10,000 miles of canals, straight as Arizona highways, through the oak and cypress forests, black mangroves, bird rushes and golden marshes. If lined up in a row, the canals would stretch nearly halfway around the world.
They funneled salt water into the marshes, killing trees and grass and hastening erosion. Some scientists say drilling caused half of Louisiana’s land loss, or about 1,000 square miles.