NATCHITOCHES, La. -- BP claims to have spent $6.1 billion in claims so far in the Gulf of Mexico, but as a reporter who has covered the oil spill in the Gulf, I can tell you the response of locals indicates the company will be in for a lot more.
Throughout the region, people are relieved that the oil spill has ended with the "static kill." The final phase of this part of BP's response, the two relief wells, are said to be ending this week. There is talk of celebration, of trips from the central areas of Louisiana to New Orleans, of people resuming their plans to visit Florida.
But the questions remain. What about the crabs? What about the oil beneath the surface near the ocean floor? What about the long-range impact from the toxic chemicals used in the dispersants? And what about the impact on people's lives from the unrelenting fear and emotional upset that took place over more than three months?
I made the way on a reporting trip from Natchitoches, in the central part of Louisiana, through the Gulf Coast to Florida and then to Grand Isle to visit the oil-soaked areas. Along the way, those are the questions people are asking.
John Hocevar of Greenpeace told me in early July he was concerned about the long-range impact of the BP oil spill. Hocevar is the Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA and was on Grand Isle during my day-long journey to assess the area and write an article for a Vancouver publication
Hocevar said at the time, "We are getting a better handle on what's really happening." Indicative of the future was when he and his crew spotted 25,000 dead hermit crabs in an area the size of a football field.
What do the deaths of hermit crabs indicate? It tells the future when the clean-up workers have gone and BP tries hedging its losses.
"The hermit crabs are the indicator species," Hocevar said. "When they die, this is an indicator of what can happen to other wildlife because the crabs are the food for other creatures. The hermit crab is an essential part of the wildlife chain."
This issue has been raised again by scientists within the past few days, especially about the blue crab, another indicator species.
The economy's recovery, the coast's wildlife, the future of the ecosystems, the oil and the chemicals used to disperse the oil, and the impact on the health of the people who worked in the clean-up -- at burn sites, on beaches, on ships near the water -- are the worries right now.
People wonder now if the light will still shine on the damage or if people will shrug and walk away to the next big story. Because here in Louisiana, folks remember Hurricane Katrina, the levees and that those levees remain unfinished, all while the storm season remains in the Gulf. They remember broken promises from government and corporations supposed to do a job.
Will the oil spill fade from America's conscience? Will BP's promises go unfulfilled? Those are ultimate questions for people in Louisiana. Like a Washington Poststory relates, people wonder if they will be forgotten. That's because it has happened before so many times.