Black Meetings and Tourism

Nov/Dec 2011

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The evening of April 20, 2010, was just like any other along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Fishermen were trolling the waters for their livelihood. Birds, fish, mammals and other sea life enjoyed the creature comforts of their natural habitat along the marshlands of the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf of Mexico. Fifty miles off shore, crewmembers of the Deepwater Horizon were going about the business of satisfying the world's insatiable appetite for oil. Then the unthinkable hap- pened. At approximately 9:45pm CDT, methane gas from the underwater well shot to the surface, expanded and exploded. Fire engulfed the entire platform killing 11 workers and injur- ing 17 others. It was a painful reminder of the dangers associated with oil drilling, especially a mile below the ocean surface. The explosion unleashed a massive oil spill that quickly made its way to the Louisiana shore- line killing wildlife, ruining ecologically sensitive wetlands and destroying the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents from Texas to Florida. The economic impact would reach well into the billions of dollars with no end in sight. By the time the well was capped July15, 2010 an estimated 17 to 39 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf making it the largest accidental marine spill in the history of the petroleum industry. By comparison the Exxon Valdez disaster dumped approximately 11 million gallons into the pristine Alaskan waters according to official reports, and it's safe to say the size of both spills was probably underreported. The Deepwater Horizon disaster affected 16,000 miles of coastline. Some 18 months later there are still sporadic reports of tar balls washing up on the shores of numerous Gulf Coast communities. In June 2010, BP made a deal with the federal government to set aside $20 billion towards clean up and relief for victims of the oil spill. The $20 billion would be managed through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) under the administration of Kenneth Feinberg. The announcement of Fienberg came with great fanfare and media coverage because of his track record as administrator in managing previous disasters – Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Relief appeared to be imminent. BP and the Coast Guard were doing a bet- ter job coordinating clean up efforts of the oil-infested Gulf waters. They hired now unemployed fisherman and others to rake up the oil soaked sandy beaches. Television news crews captured moving images of desperate Black Meetings & Tourism November/December 2011: 65 P BY MICHAEL BENNETT hotos Credit: Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

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