A panel of researchers from the University of South Alabama believes it will take years to fully understand the impact of the BP oil spill. It’s very clear that one year after the disaster the coastal states, including Alabama, still face many unanswered questions related to the spill. Dr. Steven Picou, a professor of sociology at the University of South Alabama, is leading a research project on the long-term consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. That gives him a unique perspective on the Gulf Coast crisis. Dr. Picou correctly stated that Alaska residents are having to deal with the Exxon Valdez disaster more than two decades later. That fact should get the attention of all elected officials in the Gulf Coast states as well as those in Washington. We have a long road toward recovery in Alabama and in the other states affected by the oil spill.
The BP oil spill, much like the 1989 incident in Alaska, “is more complex and stressful” than hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural disasters. Hurricanes happen over a relatively short time span. Once they are over, however, the recovery process begins. That’s not the case with disasters such as the Gulf Oil Spill. It can take decades – such as with the Alaska oil spill – before the full extent of damages is even known. Dr. Picou said his Alaska research shows that the Gulf Coast can expect a series of “secondary” disasters as a result of the BP spill. Those include the agonizing claims process, chronic health concerns and having to go through the litigation process.
Dr. Ronald D. Franks, a psychiatry professor who oversees the College of Medicine at the University of South Alabama, says his research has identified higher rates of depression, substance abuse and domestic violence in areas affected by the spill. Dr. Franks expects it will take a minimum of four years for Gulf Coast residents to return to normal — about twice as long as the recovery from a hurricane or other natural disaster. Dr. Franks had this to say:
The economic stress and the litigation makes the population more vulnerable to these mental health problems. Technological disasters like the oil are a lot more serious, compared to natural disasters. It’s up to us to respond and protect our people from these problems.
According to most scientists, it’s far too soon to make definitive conclusions about the scale and scope of the marine disturbances. The uncertainty won’t likely be resolved for years. The next phase of the disaster will be a debate over the actual damage caused by the spill and who all should be made to pay. The cause of the damage is quite evident, with that part of the debate centering on allocation of fault. Federal law requires the U.S. government to document a spill’s environmental damage – a process called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment – and requires companies found responsible to pay to fix the damage. When the government and the companies are unable to agree on a settlement, the matter goes to court.
Drs. Picou and Franks were among a half-dozen experts from the University who spoke recently on topics related to the oil spill. The panel was co-sponsored by the University and the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council, a successor organization to the Alabama Coastal Recovery Commission. A video recording of the full panel discussion is available on the Recovery Commission’s website at www.crcalabama.org.
Sources: Mobile Press Register and Wall Street Journal
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