Weasel words: BP ‘cleanup’ falls far short of ‘coastal restoration’

BP's "Louisiana Gulf Response" website exaggerates the scope of clean-up efforts since the blowout.

By Mark Moseley, The Lens opinion writer |

While reading a local news story on the web, I noticed a familiar yellow and green color scheme on the sidebar. Sure enough, it was a BP advertisement: “Gulf Coast Restoration,” the article teased, “Read the latest.”  Intrigued, I clicked the link and was sent to the official BP America Twitter feed which presented lovely notices about Gulf Coast festivals, links to photos of birds and fish, and a  healthy does of BP corporate news (2nd Quarter profits: $5.6 billion).

But I didn’t see any actual “Gulf Coast Restoration” news, as a typical concerned Louisianan would understand the term. On the Twitter page sidebar, there was a column of links titled “Gulf Coast Restoration info.” So I clicked one of those and went to this page, with stories on BP’s new drilling standards and research initiatives, plus updates about area fishing contests. The site had prominent categories for topics such as tourism, wildlife and seafood, claims information, and news updates. But it wasn’t easy to locate  the actual “restoration” page on the BP site. And when you do find it you come to learn that BP has neutered the term:

BP is working with governments and communities toward the goal of restoring the Gulf to what it would be like today if the spill had not occurred. This is referred to as “baseline conditions” – the measure used to define restoration goals in the Gulf of Mexico.

Throughout the past year Jeffrey at Library Chronicles has brought attention to the following distinction, but it deserves repeated emphasis: oil disaster recovery is not Gulf Coast restoration..

Before the oil gusher was even capped last summer, BP labeled their recovery efforts associated with the Deepwater Horizon “incident” as “Gulf Coast restoration.” Surely the term was carefully chosen to appeal to Louisianans who associate the word with rebuilding the coast. But that’s bogus, a warping of language right out of George Orwell’s 1984. BP’s efforts to help the region recover from an oil disaster fall well short of coastal restoration, a vastly larger project. Cleaning oiled vegetation isn’t tantamount to replacing wetlands sliced and diced with oil service canals and lost to salt water and petrochemical pollution. To rhetorically link oil disaster recovery to coastal restoration, as usually defined, imbues BP’s work with a significance it doesn’t deserve. And by abusing common parlance to inflate its work, BP obscures the greater coastal crisis Louisiana faced long before last year’s blowout. A crisis the oil and gas industry has greatly accelerated.

Louisiana has already lost 2000 square miles of coast. This includes ecosystems that have nourished our culture and economy for generations, while providing  communities with vital protection from storm surge. No one concerned with true Gulf Coast restoration believes that returning the coast to the “baseline conditions” of March 2010 should be the goal, because that condition was already unacceptable.  Restoration doesn’t mean just mopping up oil and throwing guilt money at victims. It requires financing and engineering complex re-sedimentation projects that will replace the marshes, wetlands and natural ridges that have been lost to the sea. It’s the most important issue facing Louisiana, a policy challenge that is only set back by BP fuzzing the sharp distinction that must be drawn between disaster clean-up and a dynamic revival of the coast.

We need to tell BP to stop using the term “Gulf Coast Restoration” unless they are referring to long-term projects that replace lost coastal mass. Conflating clean-up with restoration is not only intellectually offensive, it undercuts Louisiana’s ability to educate the nation about the status of America’s most important wetland and the need to save it. Pretty photos of wildlife and seafood festival updates may have a soothing effect, but in no sense do they amount to evidence of restoration. Rinsing out the salt you threw into a gaping wound doesn’t make you a healer.

I suspect BP’s abuse of language is no accident. They know “Gulf Coast Restoration” is a loaded term in these parts. Associating their effort with the larger mission is a way of obscuring how superficial their clean-up has been to date. BP should immediately cease using “Gulf Coast Restoration” in their ads and websites, and replace it with a more descriptive term like “Oil Disaster Recovery.”

More than semantics is at stake. In the coming years, BP will pay billions in fines, and hopefully a huge slice of those monies will be use to fund long-term plans to save the coast. Louisiana must work with Congress and the Obama administration to ensure that we use this money to fund goals that truly address our long-term needs: If we waste this money merely aiming to reconstruct the coast along BP’s absurd March 2010 “baseline,” it will amount to another wasted opportunity, a big one.

Worst of all, some of BP’s oil remediation and “recovery” efforts are actually proving injurious to our fragile coast, as Scott Eustis of the Gulf Restoration Network reported in May:

On Tuesday Jonathan and I traveled to Fourchon Beach, on the Wisner Donation Property, to meet with Cathy Norman and Forrest Travirca of Wisner and discuss the trials and tribulations of maintaining this important front line of defense against storms, despite the impact of BP’s oil and the clean-up response.   Much oil from the Macondo blowout remains on the beach, turning one of Louisiana’s treasures into a solid waste disposal site.  Some of the mechanical processing of oil has accelerated erosion of the beach to the point of no return.  BP’s disaster has halted the ongoing restoration efforts necessary to sustain the island, in a critical time when the island is disappearing before our eyes.

To review: BP, along with other oil and gas companies, is partly responsible for Louisiana’s coastal loss. BP is also responsible for the Macondo oil gusher, which polluted and further damaged more chunks of our eroding coast. In “cleaning” some of the oiled beaches, BP actually destroys part of the same coastline we are trying to save. Yet, in BP’s mind, this sort of thing can be advertised as “Gulf Coast Restoration.”

We can’t let them continue to abuse this term in such a misleading and harmful way.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.