Back Bay Mission: The Capping of an Oil Well

July 20, 2010

So now it’s capped. The new 75-ton cap placed onto the spewing oil well appears to be doing the job it was intended to do as the test period draws to a close. Although some bubbles escaping from the valve are current cause for concern, indications for the moment are positive. For the first time since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20 out in the Gulf of Mexico, no oil is gushing into the waters of the Gulf.

This news is cause for thanksgiving, to be sure, but as I make my way back to the Gulf Coast today from points north, I am forced to tell those who ask me that this disaster is far from being over.  After all, somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons had already been released into the Gulf these last three months. The surface slick from the oil covered 2,700 square miles a couple of days ago, an area slightly larger than Delaware.  One expert has said that 44,000 square miles of the Gulf have seen a significant amount of oil pass through. Now it's got to somehow all be cleaned up.  No one knows how long it will take, or just what the long-term impacts will be on the wildlife and Gulf Coast economies already damaged so profoundly.   And meanwhile, the "permanent fix" to the ruptured well --  pumping mud and cement into the broken well deep underground – is still another month away.

I cannot help but think of Mr. Le and his son Nate.  I met them several weeks ago at one of the Biloxi harbors where shrimp boats dock.  They were busy making minor repairs to their shrimp boat, painting its hull a shiny new black.  The boat was the only source of income for their family, the only employees of the boat Mr. Le and his two sons.   Nate had quit high school a few years back because his father needed help on the boat. And that boat, the way of life that is shrimping for so many families along the Gulf Coast, is everything to the Le family.

"This time last year," Nate said, "we were doing so well.  The [shrimping] season was great."  But this year is a different story.  Prevented from shrimping in much of the federal waters, and lacking the size of boat or financial resources to travel out beyond the oil slicked waters to areas still open for commercial fishing, they sit and wait.  And they worry.   Without shrimping, they say, they have nothing.  Their family's survival hangs in the balance.  So they paint their boat, and fix things up, hoping that one day soon they can take her out on the Gulf's waters and return to the life they know and on which they depend.

Yes, the cap is on the well, and the oil is contained.  I thank God for these facts.  But what difference will that make for the Le family now, and for thousands of others whose livelihoods have already been destroyed?  And what irreparable harm has already been done to God's Creation?  Please pray for the Le family and for all those whose lives have been upended by this ongoing disaster.  And pray too for those who are now tasked with healing the wounds, fostering survival, and solving the massive problems of economy and ecology with which we are left.

Grace & peace,

Shari Prestemon


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