NEW ORLEANS – Here in Louisiana, another 5,300 gallons of oil have spilled. The incident happened on Sept. 5, tainting the water in the state’s Bay Long region, and further assaulting an ecosystem already made fragile by flooding and previous spills. Another oil disaster occurred near Mosier, Oregon in June – dangerously close to a Native American reservation. And just over a week ago, a major gas spill struck central Alabama. In the wake of news regarding indigenous people’s triumph over the Dakota Access Pipeline, these new spills have come to spoil the morale – and they all have something in common.
As with most of these kinds of disasters, all three were the result of accidents. The Louisiana spill happened due to a vessel belonging to the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company. The marsh excavator mistakenly cut through a pipe owned by the Harvest Pipeline Company, unleashing the oil. Though the spill has already been contained, it has harmed wildlife in the area and has, in all likelihood, caused irreversible ecological damage.
An explosive accident resulted in the Oregon spill, when a 96-car Union Pacific oil train derailed, bursting into flames and spewing crude into the Columbia River, about 70 miles east of Portland. The Yakama indigenous tribe has a reservation just north of where it happened, across the river in southern Washington, and the spill represents a direct threat to their livelihood. Once more, Native people must mourn the despoilment of their land.
And finally, a pipeline carrying gasoline from refineries in Houston up to New York City broke outside of Helena, Alabama, allowing about 6,000 barrels to contaminate the local environment. Unlike the two oil spills, this story made it to the top of the news, albeit for the wrong reasons. With the flow of gas interrupted, six governors have declared a state of emergency, with major gas shortages occurring at the pumps in each of their states, as gas is now being forced to be shipped via alternate routes, slowing down delivery. This is, of course, a logistical nightmare and a personal one for drivers throughout the affected area. But few, if any, of the reports have mentioned the devastating impact this will have on the environment.
A lack of media coverage, or reports based on an altogether skewed perspective, are par for the course for these kinds of disasters; that is what makes them similar. It is ironic, then, that this was the precise subject of discussion yesterday during a session of the 2016 Excellence in Journalism convention here. The convention is organized by the Society of Professional Journalists, and the session was hosted by Native American journalists and activists. They discussed the recent crisis at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, where tribe members grappled with pipeline construction that threatened their very land and heritage. Their fight against Big Oil has been a long one, marked by poor and misleading reports in the news. Just like their prediction that corporate greed would cause further oil and gas disasters, the words of indigenous people are proving true once more, with their criticisms of the media appearing to be on target.
In short, where is the coverage and representation for the Earth, and for the people and wildlife most immediately affected by these spills? That is surely a question weighing on many minds. And when the media pounced on the Alabama fuel leak story only for the purpose of bemoaning rising gas prices, it failed to address other important aspects of the problem, and certainly failed to alleviate the concerns of those now placed in harm’s way.
For Native people whose reservation lies near that Oregon spill, their own words – much like those spoken by the tribe in Standing Rock – continue to go unheard. But JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, is saying them anyway: “We do not know what damage will result from this,” he said. “But we do know that we have repeatedly warned of train derailments, corresponding oil spills, and the contamination that could result when these trains are carrying crude oil. The trains and their tendency to derail are grave threats to the Yakama People.”
“There just needs to be more coverage,” Stephanie Tsosie said yesterday here in New Orleans. The Navajo Nation member, an associate attorney with Earthjustice, remarked, “That pipelines like [the one in Standing Rock] can fly under the radar shows that there’s still a long way to go.”
Photo: The train derailment and subsequent oil spill in Oregon was a damaging disaster that failed to rise to the top of the news. | AP