Text and photos by Carl Safina
So let’s give this blog a soundtrack. Listen to this as you’re reading:
After we come back from Freemason Island we follow some boats out into the marshes outside Hopedale, Louisiana where the wind isn’t hampering boom deployment. It seems that every boat that floats is trying to get a day’s pay out of BP by laying boom.
We see men and women who know water, boats and work, bending seriously to their task. And despite never having handled booms before, they do the job well.
The problem: No one believes the booms can work. Any medium wave action will push oil over them. And despite miles and miles and miles of boom, miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles of marsh remain utterly naked and undefended. It’s a fool’s errand.
If they had taken these miles and miles and miles of boom and immediately surrounded the oil at the site of the blowout instead of wasting days issuing inane statements about it being too early to say this is a catastrophe—. If they had treated it as a potential catastrophe and staunched the bleeding instead of waiting to see if the patient would indeed bleed to death—. If they had laid twenty circles of boom around the blowout when they could have—. All this boom might have mattered.
The only saving grace is that there is no oil yet in sight. And that hardly helps. Because the people have no jobs after this.
James Keiff has been an oysterman for 35 years. “We outta work,” he tells me from the deck of his 48-foot boat, Lady Jennifer, as he motors along carrying 3,000 feet of boom to the outer edge of one of the marsh islands. “Now we workin’ for BP. They don’t know these waters. We do.” A moment later he adds, “I have no idea what’s gonna happen. It could be two months; it could be two years. The worst is the not-knowing. The stress is in the not-knowing. Katrina came and went. We knew what to do. If the oil stays offshore, we could be OK. But that’s a big ‘if.’”
Unless this turns out “by some miracle”—a phrase I keep hearing—to be not as bad as everyone fears, these boats, homes, and lives may soon be worth next-to-nothing on the open market.
But for this frantic moment, with oil rigs in every direction and the oil coating everyone’s mind, it’s boom boom boom.