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Photos from the BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster the Government Has Been Keeping from You

Greenpeace FOIA Request Uncovers Shocking Images from the Deepwater Horizon Blowout


When BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil well blew up and sank two years ago and began spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, reporters from around the world rushed to the crime scene to cover one of the worst environmental disasters in history. Just one problem: BP representatives, state and federal law enforcement officials, and private security contractors hired by BP started to restrict the media’s access to the coastal areas hardest hit by the incoming waves of oil. Writers and photographers were told they couldn’t enter public beaches and were hassled when they tried to do so. Boat and small plane owners in Louisiana were discouraged from renting their craft to reporters looking to document the blowout’s environmental impact. The restricted access to affected areas seemed a clear attempt by BP, and the federal government, to filter the images the public could see.

Here’s how an AP photographer Gerald Herbert explained the situation at the time:

"Often the general guise of 'safety' is used as a blanket excuse to limit the media's access, and it's been done before. It feels as though news reporting is being criminalized under thinly veiled excuses. The total effect of all these restrictions is harming the public's right to know."

NOAA photos, courtesy Greenpeace

I was one of those reporters in Louisiana trying my best to let the public see what has happening on the Gulf Coast, and I remember being especially grateful to the folks at Greenpeace who were running boat trips on Barataria Bay so that reporters could photograph and write about the globs of oil that were contaminating the waters there.

Yesterday Greenpeace scored another win for the public’s right to know when the group released scores of photos taken by government officials during the spill but never before made public. Greenpeace received the photos after filing a Freedom of Information Act request in August 2010.

The photos are gruesome. They show dead Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles smothered in goopy brown oil and a government worker with a pile of dead animals in black plastic bags. The photos present a stark contrast to many of more upbeat, “we’re-saving-the-critters” pictures released by government agencies during the worst weeks of the spill.

Greenpeace says the newly released images should be included in the evidence to press criminal charges against BP. The class action civil trial against BP has gone through one delay after another as the judge hearing the case continues to press for an out-of-court settlement. Last month the federal government filed the first criminal charges over the blowout against Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer. But the company itself still has not been charged with a crime.

“We remain concerned about what else BP and the government scientists saw, what else they documented but never showed the public,” Kert Davies, Greenpeace research director, said in a statement. “These photos are a grim reminder of the real damage that reckless oil corporations cause and also remind us never to stop pushing for transparency and accountability from Big Oil and the government that supposedly regulates its activities.”

Jason MarkJason Mark photo
Jason Mark is the Editor in Chief of SIERRA, the national magazine of the Sierra Club, and the author of Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man. From 2007 to 2015 he was the Editor of Earth Island Journal.

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Thanks for the expose’, Jason. What can any of us do about the ongoing damage to Gulf wildlife? I don’t live in the South, but I would love to hear any ideas as to how the average person can help.

By GDiFonzo on Tue, May 08, 2012 at 4:12 pm

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