In 2010, one of British Petroleum's (BP) oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico ignored a dangerous gas build up in a well from which it had been extracting oil, and the oil rig erupted in flames, killing 11 workers. Millions of barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf. After BP capped the oil spill a few months later, the U.S. government and BP reassured the world that the oil was being cleaned up or was decomposing naturally and the pristine Gulf waters and beaches were recovering. The TV crews packed their gear and went home and the story faded from the news.
Director Josh Tickell in "The Big Fix" challenges the official version that all is well in the Gulf of Mexico after the spill. The story begins when Tickell, wife Rebecca, actor Peter Fonda (also one of the executive producers) and a camera crew take a road trip to the Gulf to survey the oil spill disaster. They discover that state police have sealed access to the beaches and they are turned away. When they finally get an official guided tour, they suspect that they are being lied to. When Hurricane Alex approaches, police disappear and Tickell and crew return to the beaches. Instead of removing the oil, they find that BP is using machines to cover it with sand. Police also blocked access to sites where clean up workers reside and work so it is impossible to interview clean-up workers.
Tickell challenges the version presented by BP and the U.S. government that the spilled oil has been removed or has decomposed naturally. The Obama administration allowed BP to use the toxic oil dispersant Corexist that is banned by the British government because it is toxic to humans. Oil by itself will rise to the surface on any body of water where it can be collected. Corexist breaks oil into small particles which then fall to the bottom of the ocean.
Corexist mixed with oil is even more poisonous, according to scientists. This toxic brew attaches itself to plants, animals and humans and is absorbed by the skin. Tickell visits coastal dwellers, who show big rashes and sores on their stomachs, arms and legs that have eaten through the flesh and who complain of burning throats and chests and respiratory problems. Tickell's wife Rebecca begins to suffer similar medical complications and a local doctor tells them that Corexist is responsible.
Tickell visits local fisherman who claim that their livelihood has been devastated by the oil spill because there is less seafood to catch. When Tickell and his wife visit the open sea with one fisherman they are overpowered by the stench of oil and Corexist and must use gas masks.
What is more disturbing is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed the fisheries to be opened after the oil spill. The seafood industry is a major employer in the Gulf region. Louisiana environmental lawyer Stuart Smith demonstrates how the EPA and state officials lowered testing standards to allow the harvesting and sale of contaminated seafood.
Obama did not punish BP for the oil spill, but instead agreed that the company should set up a claims fund for victims, out of which few people have been compensated. Then in 2011, the White House issued more permits for offshore oil drilling. Tickell explores how big corporations and the oil industry influence Washington through massive lobbying and campaign donations to the Republican and Democratic Parties.
After the well was capped, the Coustea family and several university research teams and foundations sent underwater cameras, dive teams and submarines into the Gulf to discover "nightmarish plumes of heavy oil as big as islands roaming the Gulf". "When we are told by the media and government the oil is gone, we are being lied to," stated marine explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau. The oil has pooled on the sea floor, killing all life.
The nightmare has still not ended. According to witnesses and film footage, Corexist is still being dumped into the Gulf, even though the White House and BP claim otherwise. New oil spills continue to occur from the supposedly capped well. According to scientists, the Gulf of Mexico, the sixth largest water body in the world, is facing ecological collapse.
"The Big Fix" is a well made, hard hitting, unsettling investigative documentary that had me on the edge of my seat. With BP in court these days in New Orleans for spilling 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, the "Big Fix" reminds us not only of BP's culpability but the serious aftermath that will linger for many years to come.
"The Big Fix"
Directed by Josh Tickell
2012, 90 min.
Photo: Josh and Rebecca Tickell, overwhelmed by fumes, don gas masks in "The Big Fix." (The Big Fix Movie)