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Oil Spill Spreads, Threatens Fishing and Shipping

For a company that changed its slogan to “beyond petroleum” a few years ago, BP is having a tough time getting beyond petroleum, in light of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.

Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research workers clean Northern Gannet bird covered in oil from Deepwater Horizon oil rig incident.
Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research workers clean Northern Gannet bird covered in oil from Deepwater Horizon oil rig incident.

Oil analyst Andy Lipow said if the problem escalates, the effects could be even more far-reaching. “Should the Mississippi River be closed for a significant amount of time, the cost is going to go up as goods and services sit around,” said Lipow.

Estimates of its toll to date are between a half billion to $8 billion, according to analysts. Florida governor Charlie Crist has declared the panhandle area of the state, a nursery for oysters, shrimp, blue crabs and various flat fish, a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, commercial fishermen along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, already dealing with the effects, have filed suit against BP.

“It’s a terrible tragedy for these fellows,” James C. Klick, the fishermen’s counsel, told CNBC Friday. “They have not been able to do the shrimping that they should do and their season is likely to be closed this year.”

He added that the oil is spreading to various bays in the region and killing shrimp. In unaffected areas, fishermen have begun fishing for shrimp that are too young, thereby potentially damaging the their livelihood even further.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, shrimper Acy Cooper Jr. of Venice, LA, told CNBC Friday, it took five years to recover.

“Coming back from Katrina was hard,” added Cooper, who is also vice president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, “but this is harder.”

“Our economy is based on the oil fields and fishing,” he said “When you take this away from us, we have nothing else to do.”

The fishermen are skeptical about getting help from either BP or the government, although both entities are now making lots of noise about aiding the region. President Obama, who reiterated in an address Friday that BP bears the financial responsibility for the disaster, has dispatched an army of federal officials to the Gulf coast.

For its part, BP has begun offering paid work to idle fishermen, by training some of them in safety so that they can accompany their crews on the waters the locales know so well.

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