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Gulf oil spill: Questions unanswered, residents try legal action

State attorneys general, commercial fishing organizations, and environmental groups are pressing BP to provide more information on the cause of the massive Gulf oil spill.

By Staff writer / May 6, 2010

Workers at a decontamination site in Venice, La., carry oil containment boom to a staging area where it will be put aboard boats fighting the effects of BP's Gulf oil spill.

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New Orleans

In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, rig operator BP has produced apologies, jobs for local fishermen to aid in the recovery efforts, and a promise to pay for all cleanup costs.

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But what it hasn’t yet produced are answers to why the explosion happened and how exactly it plans to compensate local fishermen – unanswered questions that, three weeks after the explosion, are frustrating all those affected by the disaster, including leaders of gulf coast states and fishing operators.

“All these fishermen here are really uncertain of what the future holds,” says Lance Nacio, who operates a four-person shrimping operation in Dulac, La. “What I would like to hear is some kind of contingency plan for lost revenue compensated for damages now and into the future.”

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As expected in disasters of this magnitude, lawsuits seeking damages are being filed daily. At last count, 50 complaints against BP and involved parties such as Halliburton Energy Services, which was in charge of the underwater well cap, seek millions of dollars for lost revenue.

A temporary fishing ban on the Mississippi River’s fertile east waters could not only devastate local charter companies and seafood operators, it has the potential to hurt local restaurateurs and hotels as well as municipalities that depend on tax revenue.

What about lost business revenue?

But while BP CEO Tony Hayward has made repeated public statements about paying for cleanup efforts, the company has been vague regarding whether the promise extends to covering lost business revenue by these ancillary parties.

Attempts to address the needs of fishermen have been mixed.

Recovery jobs were first seen as a goodwill gesture but soon turned into a public relations nightmare when it was learned that BP was not promising to cover potential liability damages to local boats or crews. On Thursday, when the US Small Business Association announced a program to give local businesses low interest loans, it was perceived as another way BP was getting off the hook regarding damages.

“We don’t need loans, we need to go out and work. We have enough bills, we don’t need more bills,” says Mr. Nacio.

The demand for BP to announce an action plan increased Wednesday when a coalition of commercial fishing organizations and environmental groups from Texas to Florida went to federal court seeking injunctions against BP and Halliburton.

The demands don’t seek money but transparency. The coalition wants both companies to release data relating to the explosion and rig capsize so independent experts can determine its cause. The filings also want to know the chemical compounds in the dispersants used to mitigate the oil in order to find out its possible effect on public health and the environment.

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