On April 20, 2010 BP’s offshore oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 workers, causing the largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters and the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It impacted wildlife and people, caused health problems from exposure to oil and dispersants, and decimated oyster, shellfish and finfish populations and damaged livelihoods and economies in towns dependent on fisheries. Five years later, much oil remains in the Gulf, but no one is sure how much. BP has fought in court to minimize its responsibility.
Kicking off a week of events marking the fifth anniversary of that event—with the damage to the environment and the ecosystem of the Gulf region still being added up—activists occupied BP headquarters in Houston. They carried signs with messages such as “Never Again: No Sacrifice Zone,” “Extreme Energy Out of Our Communities,” “No Kill, No Spill, Keep It in the Ground” and “BP Lies.” As Gulf Coast residents stood in the lobby of the building and read a list of questions for BP, such as “Why is BP continuing to fight clean-up efforts in court?,” security and police moved in and arrested six of the protesters.
Anne Rolfes, founding director of the grassroots environmental nonprofit the Louisiana Bucket Bridge, was one of those arrested.
“The BP Disaster shows that the oil industry isn’t capable of preventing or cleaning up a catastrophe like BP,” she said. “Let the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico be a cautionary tale: we should not drill in the Arctic. We should not drill off the Atlantic coast. In Louisiana, our oysters are dying, our fishermen are out of work. BP has killed our livelihood and our culture but instead of taking responsibility for that harm, the best they can do is churn out glossy PR photos of white sand and blue water.”
Another of the activists arrested, Cherri Foytlin of coastal southern Louisiana, said, “BP has used false advertising to sell the public a lie. The truth is many have fallen ill due to BP’s heavy use of toxic chemicals. Our dolphins and turtles are still dying at unprecedented rates. Our fisheries still struggle to recover. Our hard-working, fishing families still suffer economic losses as BP has done everything possible to dodge their responsibilities to a settlement that they helped to write. Little has changed to protect the life and health of workers on the rigs.”
“And BP’s oil is still out there on the sea floor,” she continued. “Their oil invades our shores to this day. The truth is that the oil is still here, and so are we. We, like the Earth herself, have a right to live. We have a right to thrive. Anyone who keeps us from that is an enemy to us. This is our battle. This is everyone’s battle. And we will not yield.”
The protest is only one of the ways activists are calling attention to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Gulf South Rising’s Week of Action from April 15-22 includes events all over the Gulf region, including Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.