Jules Melancon, the last remaining oyster fisherman on an island
dotted with colorful houses on stilts, says he has not found a
single oyster alive in his leases in the area since the leak and
relies on an onshore oyster nursery to make a living.
He and others in the southern U.S. state say compensation has been
paid unevenly and lawyers have taken big cuts.
The British oil major has paid out billions of dollars in
compensation under a settlement experts say is unprecedented in its
Some claimants are satisfied, but others are irate that BP is now
challenging aspects of the settlement. Its portrayal of the
aftermath of the well blowout and explosion of its drilling rig has
also caused anger.
"They got an advert on TV saying they fixed the Gulf but I've never
been fixed," said Melancon, who was compensated by BP, but deems the
The oil company has spent over $26 billion on cleaning up, fines and
compensation for the disaster, which killed 11 people on the rig and
spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87
days after the blast on April 20, 2010.
That is more than a third of BP's total revenues for 2013, and the
company has allowed for the bill to almost double, while fighting to
overturn and delay payments of claims it says have no validity, made
after it relinquished control over who got paid in a settlement with
plaintiff lawyers in March 2012.
The advertisement that most riled Dean Blanchard, who began what
later became the biggest shrimp company in the United States in
1982, was the one first aired by BP on television in late 2011 that
said "all beaches and waters are
At that time almost 50 square miles of water in Louisiana were
closed to fishing, according to the state's Department of Wildlife
and Fisheries. Seven fishing areas are still closed, three where
Blanchard says he would usually get his seafood.
Asked about the discrepancy, BP, which made the cleanup
advertisements to help the affected states bring visitors back, said
there was no scientific basis for the water closures and that all
studies had found that seafood was safe to consume.
Perceived injustice, between those who got payouts and those who did
not, has divided the small community on Grand Isle, 50 miles south
of New Orleans. Within sight of a line of deep sea oil rigs, it was
one of the worst-affected areas.
Long streaks of oil marked the sand where a couple of tourists
walked barefoot and small tarballs, which environmentalists say
contain the most toxic form of oil, had collected on part of the
beach when Reuters visited in October to report on the legacy of the
The Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group which monitors
spilt BP oil, says it is still appearing in Grand Isle. The group
saw what it called "thousands of tarballs" there on April 9th and
collected some of them for testing.
A BP spokesman said only very small quantities of material from the
Macondo well were washing up and they did not threaten human health.
Under the settlement, claims for lost income or property damage have
been easier for individuals and large businesses than small
companies or start-ups without detailed accounts.
"People are really upset here because a lot of people got a lot of
money but many people didn't," said waitress Jeanette Smith at
Starfish Restaurant, the only eatery in Grand Isle to have managed
to stay open seven days a week since the spill.
Melancon said his claim for economic damage was rejected as a lot of
transactions were in cash. He was offered more than a million
dollars for property damage but says he lost more than six times as
much and has so far only received around $400,000 of the
compensation money he was allocated.
Some islanders, however, say compensation has been fair.
Terry Pazane, 48, a shrimper on Grand Isle since he was 15, found
out in late January that he will be compensated just over $300,000.
"You got your paperwork together, they got you paid," he said. "If
you can't prove nothing, you don't get nothing."
The oil company said it could not comment on individual claimants
but that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans had found
the settlement scheme was "fair, reasonable, and adequate to all".
BP has maintained, both via the media and the courts, that the
settlement has been too generous in some cases.
Along with video images of its clean-up, BP regularly runs full-page
advertisements in U.S. newspapers highlighting what it says are
flaws in the handling of the settlement it had agreed to avoid
having to fight costly individual
In one, concerning a claim by a shrimp fisherman, BP said a lawyer
within the settlement program, which is responsible for deciding the
amount of payouts, took a cut. The office of claims administrator
Patrick Juneau declined to comment.
[to top of second column]
Businesses of all kinds in New Orleans said they suffered from the
spill because visitors stayed away due to concerns over the city's
signature Gulf seafood, even though the oil that flowed into the
ocean near the mouth of the Mississippi did not reach New Orleans
The settlement does not compensate everyone. Just 20 out of over
3,000 claims for failed business have been paid so far, according to
But BP has argued in the New Orleans court that claims administrator
Juneau should prove losses were caused by the spill. The court threw
out that argument, but the company has asked for its case to be
Blaine LeCesne, a professor at Loyola University
College of Law in New Orleans, said BP's actions were understandable
but possibly counter-productive.
The settlement it had agreed to was "more than fair ... virtually
assuring that every individual or business affected by the spill may
be compensated for their actual losses and beyond", LeCesne said.
But he said BP was losing goodwill by retroactively challenging the
settlement's validity because of its unanticipated cost.
BP said its "efforts to assure the integrity of the claims process"
had been misrepresented and that it continued to be committed to the
Gulf while defending its interests "in the face of absurd awards
made to claimants whose alleged losses have no apparent connection
to the spill".
BP has argued that it is not the claimants but rather the lawyers,
who can charge big fees for negotiating claims, who are the biggest
winners from the spill.
OYSTER, SHRIMP SHORTAGE
In the aftermath of the spill, oysters have been among the biggest
losers. They have fared worse than any other seafood, partly because
their immobility made them unable to swim away from the oil and
partly because they could not survive the fresh water diversions
opened along the Mississippi to protect Louisiana's precious
wetlands from oil seeping in.
Owners of oyster leases can claim $2,000 per acre for property
damage in the most affected areas, whether or not they have been
using the leases.
Al Sunseri, who, with his brother Sal, runs the oldest oyster
company in the United States — P&J Oysters, in New Orleans's French
Quarter — said processors like them had been dealt a bad hand in
comparison with the oyster farmers.
The Sunseris reckon they are handling just 55-60 percent of the
oysters they used to. Before the spill they employed 11 oyster
shuckers to take off the shells, now they have just one, working
"BP ruined our business," said Al. "All the money they've spent on
this marketing thing, and it's like, we don't even have anything to
Blanchard says he is handling 15 percent of the local shrimp that he
did before the spill. The shrimps, he says, either swam away from
the oil or were killed or mutated by the spill and its aftermath. He
is suing BP for $111 million.
BP said all tests had shown that Gulf seafood was safe to consume
and there had been no published studies demonstrating seafood
abnormalities due to the Deepwater Horizon accident.
But a study published on March 24, led by the U.S. government's
National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, found the spilt BP
oil caused "serious defects" in the embryos of several species of
fish, including tuna and amberjack.
In response, BP said the concentration of oil used in the
experiments for the study was "rarely seen in the Gulf during or
after the Deepwater Horizon accident" and that the paper provided no
evidence for a "population-level impact" on fish.
In one of its latest advertisements, the oil major said the outcome
of what it said was its fight to return the settlement to its
intended purpose would affect future decisions by other companies in
"Will they accept responsibility and do the right thing? Or will the
lesson be that it's better to deny, delay, and litigate — with
victims potentially waiting decades for compensation?"
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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