By Fred Garth
April 20th, 2015 will mark five years since the largest oil spill in the history of the universe. As an “affected” resident of Pensacola, Florida, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in BP’s madness. After they finally capped the well, I was amazed at the outlandish amount of money BP pumped into the Gulf Coast. Using the worn out expression, “spending money like a drunken sailor” doesn’t even come close BP’s wild spending spree. They cut checks for a half a million bucks like I eat M&Ms. And, when you dole out that much candy, you make a lot of friends. It’s funny how that works. As 2010, 2011 and 2012 clicked by, the payola diverted attention from the 11 poor souls who died and the massive environmental disaster. To me, a certified media geek, I saw it as one of the greatest public relations coups of all time. In fact, BP received my most coveted award: Greatest Spin Doctor of the 21st century, an honor I just now made up.
Photo from KeystoneUSA
Instead of a fishing industry with blige-loads of hate bubbling up, most commercial fishermen dragged in more income than they’d ever seen. Their criticism of BP was hard to find. It’s funny how that works. Oops, I already said that. Instead of boycotting BP gas stations, people screeched up to that pump without shame. And, any music festival, stamp licking contest, turtle race or knuckle cracking marathon that included seafood, was probably funded by a giant pot of money at the end of BP’s sticky rainbow. The strategy worked more brilliantly than a billion oil eating microbes. They bought back the hearts of Gulf Coast residents while their sales climbed from $192 billion in 2010 to $234B in 2011, to $237B in 2012 and to $242B in 2013.
While all of that was going on the environmental discussion was open for debate. In the short run, the beaches and seafood seemed to bounce back. Dispersants, along with the incredible flushing action of the Gulf Stream and yes, oil eating microbes, all combined to minimize widespread damage. Of course, folks in south Louisiana, who are still getting sporadic tarballs, got the brunt of the raw oil and suffered the most. But over here in the Florida Panhandle, you’d never know oil existed. The long-term effects here remain an open question.
Then, in 2013, a different kind of funny thing happened. When I say funny, I mean, strange. BP decided to radically change the way they calculated claims, basically to delay an already slow process. The money well got capped in a snap of the legal team’s fingers. Folks and businesses that were waiting at the end of the cash pipeline suddenly faced new, complex formulas that even smart lawyers had trouble figuring out. Instead of Daddy Warbuck handing out dough, BP put their lawyers on a amped up diet of Red Bull and Bull Dookie – a combo guaranteed to muck up the gears.
Sadly, all of that goodwill BP paid so much money to buy is starting to burn off. The anger they averted is beginning to gush up. All of those super spiffy events BP sponsored are over and done with.
What? No more seafood boils with authentic cajun washboard bands? No more pyrotechnic shows? No more dressing up like pirates and drinking free booze? It’s just not fair to make us create our own fun. We’re not that creative.
So, as the five-year anniversary approaches, BP is still chin deep in lawsuits. They may need to start shopping for extra-long snorkels soon. The Gulf of Mexico is getting healthier because nature usually prospers if man just leaves it the frick alone. But, I have to say, the opinion of BP by local folks is mixed. Those who got overpaid are pretty happy. Those who didn’t, well, let’s just say, they probably won’t be Liking the “I Heart BP” Facebook page anytime soon. It’s funny how that works.