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Gulf oil-spill views differ in Louisiana and Florida one year on

By Martin Leggett - 13 Apr 2011 19:20:0 GMT
Gulf oil-spill views differ in Louisiana and Florida one year on

The oil spilling from the stricken Deepwater Horizon rig may not have discriminated between the slicking of Florida's sands or of Louisiana's creeks, but for the residents of these two Gulf states, the worst oil blowout in US history left them with two quite different outlooks. That's one of the messages coming from University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, which conducted a detailed study of local views on the spill in the months after disaster struck.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion, and subsequent well-blowout, led to 11 rig-worker deaths, and to 3 months-worth of oil spewing unhindered into the Gulf's waters. The resulting 5 million barrels of oil, plus hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersants, left a swathe of the Gulf heavily polluted, and local fisheries wrecked. The washing-up of oil onto beaches in Louisiana, as well as Northwestern Florida's beaches, also severely dented tourist incomes in the area.

It was in order to track how this unprecedented pollution-event impacted on local communities, that the research, led by sociology doctoral student Jessica Ulrich, was undertaken. Telephone surveys were conducted in April 2010, and then later in the summer that year. The residents were asked how the oil spill had affected their families, the community and the local environment - as well as how much they trusted information on the spill, and rated the authorities' response.

The results showed an interesting split in perceptions. Floridans were most worried about the effect on tourism, whereas Louisianans expressed concerns about their fishing industry - a reflection of the differing local economies in the two states.

But the differences went further, as Ulrich, explained. ''Louisiana residents were more likely than Floridians to say their family suffered major economic setbacks because of the spill, to expect compensation by BP, and plan to leave the region as a result of the spill. Louisianans also were more likely to think their state and local governments were doing an excellent job responding to the spill and to trust newspapers as a source of information regarding the spill.''

For both sides of the state-divide, though, there was agreement that information from BP couldn't be trusted - and there was little faith that the oil company would be able to put matters right. Additionally, despite more than half of those surveyed saying they had suffered an economic loss, only 18% of those from Louisiana, and 16% from Florida expected to receive compensation.

The biggest perceived losers from the disaster were agreed to be the local environment and wildlife, according to nearly half of those asked in both states. But there was optimism that the region can bounce back - the majority thought that both the fishery and tourist industries, as well as the Gulf's wildlife, would recover within a few years.

But with pressure mounting to resume deep-water drilling in offshore America, let's hope such optimism isn't dented by oil companies taking new risks with the environment.