Gulf Coast Paying Steep Price for BP Oil Spill

Some 64 days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, spawning the worst oil spill in U.S. history, thousands of Gulf Coast residents are trying to adapt to their rapidly changing lives. According to a report on ABC News, the BP oil spill has affected nearly every facet of life for those who live and work along the shore.

For many, the financial impact is the most evident. Fisherman can’t fish, while hotels and restaurants that should be filled with tourists are nearly empty. In Lafitte, Louisiana, those who depended on the town’s once thriving seafood industry are now forced to line up for donations of groceries, ABC News said.

A representative with Catholic Charities told ABC News that so far, more than 13,000 people have sought the group’s assistance because of the spill.

So far, BP says it has received around 64,000 claims totaling $60 million from individuals and businesses suffering financially due to the spill. But it has paid out only $104 million to claimants.

Last week, the Obama administration announced that the oil giant had agreed to put $20 billion in escrow to pay oil spill claims. The fund will be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, the Washington lawyer who oversaw a similar fund for victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Yesterday Feinberg vowed to pay claims as quickly as possible. While admitting that an expedited claims process could increase opportunities for fraud, Feinberg asserted that the scale of the emergency meant “we have got to err on the side of the claimant”.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Feinberg said that administering the BP oil spill fund will be more complex than any other compensation fund he has been involved with, including the Sept. 11 fund, as well as one stemming from the Agent Orange liability litigation in the 1980s. One factor complicating his job is the fact that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an ongoing disaster.

“Until the oil stops, this is an ongoing tort. We just can’t say what the final size of claims will be,” he told the Journal. “The sheer scope of this is something we haven’t seen before.”

Hopes are high that the BP fund will ease the burden on Gulf Coast residents and businesses. During his time administering the 9/11 fund, Feinberg was widely praised for his performance.

“Ken is accustomed to handling these sort of issues without emotion,” said former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the Journal. “He was very good at distinguishing the deserving from the undeserving.”

Even as the claims process is sorted out, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to grow, impacting more and more shoreline. According to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), since the April 20 blast, nearly 160 million gallons of crude have gushed into the Gulf.

BP said it captured 23,290 barrels of oil from the spewing well on Sunday– far less the US government’s estimate that 60,000 barrels are being spilled into the ocean each day.

The company continues to work on two relief wells that will be needed to permanently stop the flow. BP said yesterday that one has reached a measured depth of 15,936 ft, while the second has reached 10,000 ft below the surface. They should be completed sometime in August.

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