BP announced on Tuesday it was ending "active shoreline cleanup" from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people, spewed millions of gallons of oil, contaminated beaches and ecosystems, and unleashed ongoing threats to marine life.
"Immediately following the Deepwater Horizon accident, BP committed to cleaning the shoreline and supporting the Gulf’s economic and environmental recovery. Completing active cleanup is further indication that we are keeping that commitment," the oil giant said in a statement.
Yet the response from the U.S. Cocast Guard paints quite a different picture, indicating the response to the disaster is far from over.
Coast Guard Captain Thomas Sparks, the Federal On-Scene Commander for the Deepwater Horizon Response, issued a statement saying, "Our response posture has evolved to target re-oiling events on coastline segments that were previously cleaned."
"But let me be absolutely clear: This response is not over — not by a long shot. The transition to the Middle Response process does not end clean-up operations, and we continue to hold the responsible party accountable for Deepwater Horizon cleanup costs," Sparks stated.
At an event, Sparks voiced his displeasure with the announcement from BP.
Speaking to Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) on Wednesday, an "irritated" Sparks said he "was really disappointed and I was shocked when I read some of the stuff in the press yesterday evening," according to reporting by NOLA.com.
"I had significant problems with some of the facts, a lot of the language, but most of all the overall tone and theme of the responsible party press release," Sparks continued. "I found it to be very misleading."
Sparks says the response now involves a more "nimble" tool of focused response equipment and personnel that can provide targeted attention.
"Oil will continue to wash onto our shores," CPRA Executive Director Kyle Graham said Wednesday at the same event. "We’re going to be seeing oiling from this Deepwater Horizon event for a long, long time."
This sentiment is echoed by the Gulf Restoration Network, which stresses that nearly four years after Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe erupted, the impacts are ongoing. It's too soon to be letting BP skirt responsibility for the disaster, and this end to the "active cleanup" phase does just that, the group says.
Jonathan Henderson, the New Orleans-based group's Coastal Resiliency Organizer and manager of the group's BP drilling disaster field monitoring operations, told Common Dreams that "anytime there is a storm, you'll see re-oiling in the form of tar balls."
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The oil gets stuck in the surf line, he explained, and the wave activity breaks it apart and sends it onto the beaches.
Last week during a visit to Grande Isle, for example, Henderson said he saw "thousands of tar balls that are presumed to be BP's." He said pending lab results will likely show them to have the same fingerprint as oil from the Macondo well.
In an op-ed this week touting the Gulf's resiliency and recovery, chairman and president of BP America, Inc., John Mingé, wrote that "some advocacy groups refuse to acknowledge evidence of the Gulf's recovery."
Henderson shot back, saying it is BP that is "refusing to ... acknowledge the science that the Gulf is hurting and the long-term damage is unknown. The only science that they pay attention to is the science they have control over."
"BP has figured out a way to have themselves removed," Henderson said, as the responsibility is "now on states to prove the tar balls belong to BP before BP is made to clean them up."
"There are no longer any cleanup crews on a regular basis looking for oil and cleaning it up," thanks to the Deepwater Horizon Response team's new status for the cleanup.
If, for example, a person sees tar balls on Grand Isle, Elmer's Island or Orange Beach, Alabama, that person now needs to file with the National Response Center (NRC), and then the NRC decides which agency has jurisdiction, though it would primarily be the Coast Guard.
But what happens then? "It's a question mark whether the Coast Guard or anyone at all will investigate," he said. There's no transparency about what happens next and the only way you can find out the status is if you submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, he said.
And, of course, the Gulf coast covers a huge area. If someone finds a tar ball along any of the masive stretch and doesn't file a report, it could stay there, Henderson explained, with no investigation to see if BP is responsible and then made to clean it up.
"It's pretty ridiculous," Henderson said.
In addition to the thousands of tar balls Henderson saw on his latest trip to Grande Isle, he saw a dead dolphin, another sign of the Gulf in distress.
As for the impacts of the BP disaster, "I don't think this is going to end anytime soon," he said.