The BP Disaster: New Orleans Betrayed Again

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.

Some pix:

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.

2 thoughts on “The BP Disaster: New Orleans Betrayed Again

  1. Y. Ben-David

    Big oil companies are the bogey-men everyone, especially “progressives” love to hate. Yet, everyone wants the product they produce as cheaply as possible. I saw a poll recently that said most Americans want to be weaned off oil and move towards supposedly “renewable” energy sources, yet they object to paying higher prices for gasoline and electricity.
    The US government has banned drilling in many promising areas such as the Alaska arctic and the Pacific Coast, yet everyone is whining about increasing American dependence on unreliable oil sources such as the Middle East, Venezuela, Nigeria and other such places.

    So now the “progressives” are going after BP for it supposed “greed and negligence”. As I understand 11 men were killed in the explosion that lead to the leak. I seriously doubt anyone at BP wanted this to happen, it seems to me it is more a case of either back luck or incompetence, not malicious behavior (but that is less fun for “progressives” since bashing “big oil” is more entertaining).
    Well, you in the US now have a “green” and “progressive” President who still, at least until next January has a clear “progressive” Democratic majority in Congress so now is the time for “progressives” to put up or shut up and slap high taxes on oil consumption.
    That will show what the “progressives” are really made of.

  2. Matt Planchak


    Welcome back, and thanks for keeping us posted through your trip. Really great work you were doing. Makes me proud to be part of JRC.

    I remember when I was young I was confused by the notion of drug dealing. I asked my mom why, if people knew their product could potentially kill people, they would sell it. She said, “there are some people who just care more about money than people.”
    Overly simplistic? Probably. But years later, it still seems that so much that goes on in business and politics can really be summed up by that one sentence.


    Since you comment here so often, it would be nice if you tried to do it in the spirit of dialogue. The issue of American addiction to fossil fuels is an extremely important one that definitely needs to be addressed. But it’s possible to do so without the snark.

    You may be interested to know that JRC is a leader in the Chicago area and the American Jewish community in terms of energy efficiency and environmental consciousness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s