Gulf oil spill threatens livelihoods

Published 12:05 am Sunday, June 20, 2010

All eyes continue to focus on the unfolding environmental and economic disaster stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Washington, D.C.

By now, we’re likely all aware of the deadly explosion and subsequent catastrophic oil leak of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

We’ve seen the photographs of fire shooting from the rig just before it sunk.

We’ve watched the almost hypnotic, live video feed of oil spewing from a mile down below the surface.

We’ve ridden the hopes of various failed attempts made to stop the flow. Each venture brings a new phrase into the vocabulary for many of us — top kill, junk shot, containment domes and relief wells.

And for days and days America and the rest of the world waited for the oil to reach the shoreline.

Eventually that happened — and continues to get worse — bringing with it the first images of oil-soaked animals.

The images are truly horrible. Only the heartless among us can look at helpless animals struggling in oil and not be bothered by the sight.

But perhaps the attention on the environmental impact and our government’s premature witch-hunt, led by the “rear-kicking” president, to “make someone pay” has glossed over the most important damage — human lives.

If the human impact of the oil disaster were plotted on paper, the spectrum of those hurt and the depth of the impact to them would be amazing.

Lots of people — unconnected directly to the disaster — have complained of the impact to their wallets. From the price of gas, which a number of experts are projecting will begin rising, to the increasing price of seafood, the costs of the spill may be felt far beyond the shorelines.

But merely looking at how the spill will affect our wallets is missing the greater disaster — the direct impact on people.

For thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the oil industry, the fishing industry or the tourism industry may feel trapped by the disaster.

These innocent bystanders are among the ones we need to be most concerned with helping.

But the ones most impacted, the ones whose lives will be changed forever — not merely inconvenienced for a couple of years — are the family members of the 11 men who were killed when the rig exploded.

Two of those men were from our community — Wyatt Kemp and Karl Dale Kleppinger Jr.

Both of these men were, by all accounts, hard-working men who loved their families.

And their families certainly loved them, too.

Today will almost certainly be a difficult one for them as the first Father’s Day passes with the new hole in their family’s collective heart.

So perhaps our thoughts and prayers should be focused a little more on remembering the men who were killed and supporting their survivors and a little less on looking for someone to blame.

It’s easy to find someone to blame, but it’s difficult to put our hearts in the right place — love and support before vengeance and retribution.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or