Documentary 'The Big Fix' Takes on Big Oil
NEW ORLEANS (CN) - "The Big Fix," a documentary about the BP oil spill, received a standing ovation from a full house here at its North American premier. The film traces the origins of BP, through its support for a CIA-backed coup against a progressive prime minister in Iran in 1953, to the lingering effects of the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.
The husband-and-wife directors of the film spoke with Courthouse News in the shade of a French Quarter courtyard. Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell's previous documentary, "Fuel," came out in 2009.
The new film credits Peter Fonda and Tim Robbins as executive producers; Fonda also appears in the movie.
"It isn't now nor has it ever been our intention to put anyone out of work, or take anyone's job away," Josh Tickell said. "It is only our intention to tell the truth."
"The Big Fix" opens with archived footage of the origins of the British Petroleum company and its operations in Iran. It also traces events that led up to the 1935 assassination of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, who briefly stood up to the oil industry.
Then the movie ventures into more recent times, including the 2000 rebranding of the oil giant as the environmentally friendly "Beyond Petroleum," its much-criticized safety record and several disasters, including the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured hundreds.
The documentary claims that the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that set off the worst oil spill in U.S. history would not have happened but for BP's corporate climate of carelessness and putting profits before safety.
The Friday-night premier was followed by a panel of people who appear in the film, including Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kaufman blew the whistle on environmental violations after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, and said he always has opposed use of the dispersant Corexit in the Gulf of Mexico.
Also on the panel was Dean Blanchard, who owns the largest shrimping business in Louisiana.
Though waters have been reopened to shrimping and fishing, Blanchard said his liability insurance carrier has canceled his insurance, so if someone gets sick from chemicals in the seafood he sells, he will be liable.
During the panel, Josh Tickell recapped key points of "The Big Fix": Corexit is still being sprayed, oil is still leaking from the Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico, and the toxic mix of oil and chemical dispersants continue to have dire impacts on human health, the environment and fish.
"We can say all day long that this is BP's responsibility, but the truth is we're all in this together. I invite you to look at this as your responsibility," Tickell said. "At the end of the day, it is our children who will inherit these estuaries."
While filming in waters reopened to fishing and shrimping, Harrell Tickell developed a rash and blisters on her chest where her skin was exposed to the air. She developed chemical pneumonia and suffered from continuing respiratory infections.
In "The Big Fix," Harrell Tickell goes to an Alabama doctor with her ailments. The doctor identifies her condition as oil-spill related, and says that he too suffered respiratory illnesses from the oil and dispersants in the air.
Dr. Susan Shaw, an independent marine toxicologist and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, also appears in "The Big Fix." She told Courthouse News in previous interviews that dispersants work by breaking the outer membrane of cells. The effect on humans and marine life alike is that the oil can enter the body more readily. Shaw said that from a toxicology standpoint, dispersed oil is more toxic than oil alone.
BP says it used 2 million gallons of Corexit during the spill, but "The Big Fix" estimates the actual figure could be as high as 40 million gallons.
BP claims it stopped using the chemical on 18, 2010, and before then it claimed it had stopped using a more toxic version, Corexit 9527, which contains 2-butoxyethenol, which kills red blood cells.
"The Big Fix" presents evidence that BP was shipping Corexit 9527 for use as late as January this year.
Hugh Kaufman, the whistleblower from the EPA, told Courthouse News there is plenty of evidence that Corexit is still being used.
In the French Quarter on Monday, Tickell and Tickell Harrell talked about their motivation to make "The Big Fix."
"We made the film to create a truth and accountability for what happened," Tickell said. "The request that the film makes is: Be responsible.
"For instance, they drill in over a mile of water in the North Sea and they don't have catastrophic failure of the rigs, the rigs don't blow up, they don't kill people, there are no major oil spills. And the North Sea is far more tumultuous, it's far colder, it's a much more rugged environment. ...
"Somehow we have the assumption that we can keep doing the same thing and keep expecting a different result. The oil industry in South Louisiana is doing the same thing that it did before the Deepwater Horizon exploded. I would love to see a new safety response plan. Where is it? The federal government has the power to mandate that that gets created, but there is no new safety response plan, certainly none that's been released to the public."
Harrell Tickell said accountability is crucial also on the local level.
"Until the people here, who are the voice for the harm that has been done from this devastation finally stand up and say we've got to stop this, we've got to shift this, then there's going to continue to be these loose regulations, and there's going to continue to be more oil spills, and there's going to continue to be this idea that we can put the profits before the well-being of the people and the land."
Harrell Tickell wore a scarf over her chest to protect her skin from the dappled sunlight.
Dr. Vincent Deleo, chairman of the University Hospital of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, gave Harrell Tickell a written diagnosis of her skin condition in January, calling her condition "a phototoxic response most likely to oil spill products which were airborne probably due to the dispersant used to solubilize the spill." He said the condition is permanent.
"So basically the dispersant carried the oil to my skin," said Harrell Tickell. "What that actually says is, for the rest of my life I can't expose my skin to the sun. So if I have kids I can't go swimming in the ocean with them without covering myself up completely. I can't even walk to my car without having something to completely cover up my neck and chest."
The filmmakers said they were surprised to find that their take on the oil spill was actually conservative compared with the stories they heard while they made the movie, and afterward.
After mulling over fish mutations, the hydrocarbons in the food chain, evidence of continued use of Corexit, and their need to submit Freedom of Information Act requests to see flight patterns involving Corexit, Tickell said, the more questions he tried to answer the more questions there were.
"These aren't questions that we ever answered in the film. They're questions that remained," he said, mentioning flight patterns and military logs that should have kept track of Corexit containers. Harrell said it's uncertain whether those logs actually exist. Nor has he been able to see records from the thousands of federal tests purportedly done to test seafood safety.
"If somebody were to say: 'Look, your film is incorrect, the information's not accurate,' then I'd challenge them to find the accurate information, from NOAA, from the Coast Guard, from the U.S. government," Tickell said.
Tickell said none of those agencies had been forthcoming with information.
BP refused to appear in the film.
"The only investigation that occurred was the Commission on the Oil Spill, and if you read the document, it clearly spells out malfeasance," Tickell said.
"No logical proof of this evidence can take place without raising questions that are not answered in BP's 'We'll make it right.' Nothing adds up. Nothing makes sense. And you have to jump to some basic conclusions because otherwise you end up with just a bunch of questions. And the basic conclusion is: Well, the many people who are reporting oil washing up on shore in South Louisiana aren't lying. The many people reporting dispersants continue to get sprayed aren't lying. The fishermen who are taking pictures of their malformed fish aren't lying. The shrimp population itself isn't lying. And people who continue to get sick aren't lying.
"So you've got five major groups of people that probably - probably - aren't lying. But somebody is lying.
"And that's the question: Who?"
"The Big Fix" will be shown tonight (Wednesday) in Chalmette, as part of the New Orleans Film Festival.