By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
A year ago, an explosion and fire on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, south of Louisiana, killed 11 men.
Oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico two days later and continued unabated out of the bottom of the ocean for three months, like a deep wound that could not be clotted. Eventually, five million barrels of oil escaped, doing unimaginable damage to the ecosystem and affecting every Gulf state from Texas to Florida.
A year later, its effect is still trying to be determined by everyone. Well, everyone except those who work for BP.
“The data tells us the water is safe, the seafood is safe and the beaches are safe,” Keith Lee Rupp of BP America told the St. Petersburg Times.
BP, the company that will forever be linked to the calamity, was throttled for their impotence in stopping the flow. They’ve been much more adept at controlling public opinion.
They earned points for setting up a $20 billion escrow account to pay out claims. But how that fund has been handled, and the funds dispersed, has raised questions. Some folks with claims have been ignored, while others have had money bestowed upon them.
After a year, BP claims czar Kenneth Feinberg, appointed by BP and President Barack Obama, has paid out just $3.8 billion to about 35 percent of claimants.
At times, Feinberg has seemed less like a claims fund manager than a potentate, granting meetings with some folks and blowing off others, including Florida legislative committees he didn’t deem worthy.
At times it has seemed less like a fund for victims than a political slush fund.
The perfect operating environment for Gov. Rick Scott.
He was one of those granted an audience with Feinberg. And the man who sees himself as state CEO suddenly had a spirit of partnership with the oil company. He landed $30 million for the Florida panhandle for “marketing” purposes. Although, it turns out, at least part of that money may be ours to begin with. In fact, a healthy chunk of the $20 billion may be coming from the federal treasury.
“This is a great day for Florida. I’m very comfortable that my discussion so far with BP is that they’re going to continue to do the right thing,” Scott said.
Yesterday, he announced that the state would not join a class-action lawsuit against Transocean, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon. The deadline for joining the suit was today.
And rather than suing BP, as many had urged, Scott is now talking about kissing and making up with the oil company.
“My goal is to try to work with BP so we don’t end up in litigation,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, public and political sentiment has shifted toward returning to deep drilling in the Gulf, even expanding drilling.
Everything is going swimmingly … at least on the surface.