Wednesday, December 7, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Oil and Dolphins

The end of the Mississippi River is known as the birdfoot because that's how it looks from an airplane. Waterways break off from the river into a web of channels that split into tendrils and crisscross marshland.

The Center of Land Use describes the Mississippi River Delta as a "national landscape of disappearance and disintegration ... where land melts into marsh and marsh melts into water."

Yesterday I saw two dolphins swimming through the inlet at Fourchon Beach where I went to get a look at the oil covering the Louisiana coast.

The oil was expected since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion left a gushing well below the Gulf, but it took its time arriving. And now it's melting into the water and seeping into wetlands.

At first I saw just one dolphin. I stopped the car and walked down to the shore of the inlet to see. I was on my way out of the beach after I had tried to take a walk around, but found myself tailed everywhere I went by BP contractors in pickup trucks. continued

In photos of the beach released following a Senate tour Monday, men in plastic suits shoveled piles of oil into trash bags. The sand was lost beneath globs of thick brown oil.

Part of me wanted to see the oil to understand. The other part knew if I didn't see the oil I could maybe even believe this isn't happening. Still, I knew before I drove the 70 miles from New Orleans into Lafourche Parish there was only a slim chance I'd be allowed onto the beach.

The worst of the oil, the thick black inky worst, has reportedly washed up all along the Louisiana shoreline. But BP doesn't want anyone to see it.

Last week the Coast Guard threatened to arrest a CBS news team as they tried to boat out to a public beach in South Pass where the sand has reportedly turned black with oil. A boat of Coast Guard officials and two representatives from BP intercepted the boat and told the crew to turn around or they would be arrested. The Coast Guard said it was acting on orders from BP. Link to video

I got close to Fourchon Beach by sheer luck. The road leading toward the beach was flanked on one side by military. On the other side was an inlet, and in the middle was a tollbooth where trucks stopped as they passed through to show their IDs.

I had the luck of slipping past the guard without incident, but once past, there was yet another barricade to get through. The guy guarding the entrance gave me a few uncertain looks then radioed his boss to alert him I was there.

A BP official drove slowly after me in his truck as I wandered down the short road.

I saw the dolphins on my way out of the area.

I walked out along the edge of the inlet to get a better look. Fish were jumping and birds swooped down to feed off the surface of the water.

It must have taken me at least this long to realize I was standing in oil. My bare toes were covered, the tops of my feet were covered, my ankles were splotched with thick brown oil. Then I saw how globs of oil on the water disintegrated into the rest of the inlet, making trails of shimmering rainbow on the surface.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.