Before we headed out to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, we heard an eye-opening presentation by David Hammer, an investigative reporter for the Times-Picayune whose articles have contained some of the most important and damning revelations about patterns of corporate negligence that ultimately led to the BP disaster.
David is a seventh-generation New Orleanian and an immensely talented reporter who knows just about everything there is to know and more about the latest Gulf tragedy. He told us that before the Deepwater Horizon explosion he didn’t know anything at all about deep water drilling, “cement linings,” and “well heads.” I’d say that as a result of this investigation, he’s now one of the country’s foremost authorities on such things.
David told us that just before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, he attended an editorial meeting in which the major subject under discussion was how the Times-Picayune would cover the fifth anniversary of Katrina (coming up this August.) The Gulf disaster soon wiped that story off the front page and as the catastrophic significance of this event became clearer, David was eventually asked to track the growing allegations of negligence against BP and the other companies involved.
David was the first to break a number of important revelations. One of the most important was his finding that BP dismissed a top oilfield service company it had hired to test the strength of cement linings on the Deepwater Horizon’s well. The firm, Schlumberger, left without performing a critical final check – and eleven hours later the oil rig exploded.
I highly recommend David Hammer’s articles, which contain the most trenchant reportage there is on the BP disaster. I will warn you, however, it is not pleasant reading. With Hurricane Katrina, the citizens of New Orleans were utterly betrayed by its local, state and national governments. Now they’ve been betrayed yet again – this time by corporate negligence and greed. It’s truly tragic to witness the repeated wounding of this region through disasters that could well have – and should have – been avoided.
David also addressed the issue of the White House’s six month deep water drilling moratorium, which most Louisianans firmly oppose. Sadly enough, the two largest industries in Louisiana are oil drilling and fishing, both of which have been devastated by the BP disaster. While most in the state understand the need for the US to break its oil addiction, most also believe that a six month moratorium would have a catastrophic impact on citizens already hard hit by the Gulf disaster. David added that a moratorium also seems increasingly unnecessary given that there is growing evidence that this particular event was caused by one company’s negligence.
I’ve spoken to several locals about these issues – and no matter where they fall on the politics, the overriding sense I get is a deep and palpable sadness. More than one person has said that this latest disaster is in many ways even scarier than Katrina. The breech of the levees, for all of its devastation, was a singular event – and in its aftermath the citizens of New Orleans knew what they needed to do. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work restoring their city.
In this case, however, the sense is the disaster is only beginning – no one knows how long it will last or what its ultimate impact will eventually be. In the meantime, it’s difficult to know what anyone can really do. As the corporations and the politicians trade accusations, there is little that average New Orleanians can do but wait to see how it will all turn out.
Up top: during a free afternoon, I went to the New Orleans Audubon Aquarium – and took this grotesquely ironic shot from the “Gulf of Mexico” exhibit.
Below: Three JRC kids volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank.
Bottom: During our final volunteer effort we cataloged library books at the Sci Academy – one of NOLA’s many impressive new charter schools that have arisen in the wake of Katrina.
We’re home now, filled with sadness at this latest devastation – but also admiration and awe at this truly amazing city. Despite it all, I can’t imagine a citizenry more devoted to its community than New Orleans. And in the end, I can’t help but believe that their devotion to one another will bring them through yet again.