Weighing options, coping with decisions

(L) Descending into New Orleans; (R) Driving down LA-23 toward Buras. (Images by Lauren Frohne)
The third anniversary of the beginning of the BP oil spill recently passed and we just returned from another filming trip to Louisiana, July 1-5. Eight months had elapsed since our last visit, and during that time, many families affected by the spill, especially commercial fishing families, had to decide whether or not they would opt in or out of the class action settlement with BP. The Arnesens received their settlement offer and we needed to be there with them. Leading up to our trip down there, Kindra had also expressed a new urgency to move, but the feasibility of it was still undetermined.

As we were making the long drive from the airport outside of New Orleans to Buras, Kindra called to tell us that she and the kids were going out on the boat fishing with David the next day, the opening day of King Mackerel season.

Aleena, 11, falls asleep in the captains chair while David navigates into the Gulf of Mexico to fish offshore on July 1, 2013. (Image by Lauren Frohne)
We’ve filmed on boats with several fishermen over the past three years, including a trip out with David. But we hadn’t yet experienced family time on the boat. Kindra said that they always told Aleena that when she turned 10, she would be allowed to go fishing with her dad, like other kids do. But then the oil spill happened when she was eight years old.

With all the talk of moving away from this place, farther from the waters they know and love, Kindra and David have tried to take the kids out on the water as much as possible lately. They have to set aside a lot of their reservations about health and safety, and let go of some of the stress and anxiety to do it, but they really seem to love the time they get to spend out there together. And David says it’s important to share this part of him with his children.

Kindra holds little David, 8. In the distance, one of the thousands of offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. (Image by Lauren Frohne)
It was a beautiful day, and during the 16-hour offshore trip, we spanned about 150 miles on a fairly small vessel. We were about 30 to 40 miles off the coast for most of the day, and all you could see for miles were the oil rigs. Hundreds of them. In fact, they fish all around them. It’s where most of the “good spots” are. We also rode through one large oil slick as we went farther offshore. You could smell it and see the rainbow sheen on the surface all around us. David says they drive through oil sheen all the time.

Unfortunately, none of the spots were so great that day. There’s no bait, they say. The fishermen calculate everything in terms of pounds, but that can be difficult for us laymen to decipher. They caught about 200 pounds of King Mackerel. A good day can range from 700 to 1000 pounds. I asked about how many fish they would catch on a good day. About 100. They caught 15 that day. Fifteen fish on opening day of the season. They pulled up duds.

(L) An offshore oil rig as seen from the Arnesens’ boat; (R) The sunset that evening from the Venice Marine. (Images by Lauren Frohne)
The rest of the week included a lot of fireworks and fun for the Fourth of July holiday. Where we come from, you can’t set off huge fireworks in your yard. But in Louisiana, you can! And we went to the South Plaquemines Parish fireworks display at Fort Jackson, just down the road from the Arnesens. It was a beautiful display and a good turnout. It ended with rain, though, but not until the fireworks were over.

The Arnesens and friends watch the fireworks display at Fort Jackson in Buras, La., as storm clouds rolled in from the Gulf. (Image by Jessey Dearing)
It is still uncertain, as of now, when and where the family will move. But they say they are definitely set on leaving. They say they can’t take it anymore. Their health worries them and opportunities are fading. They’ve looked into places on the east coast and a place in Alabama, but it’s a big decision — one that will definitely have pros and cons regardless of where they end up.

Part of the uncertainty is that the settlement ended up being a lot less than what they were led to believe they would receive at the opt-in deadline. Significantly less. Not enough, they say, to move comfortably and start over somewhere else, in an unfamiliar fishery and without the support network they have now.

Aleena begs her dad to let her go mudslinging in the rain with his nephew and her second cousin, Elizabeth. (Image by Jessey Dearing)
The whole claims process was complex and confusing, with different percentages of lost income and potential loss for different fisheries (oystermen, crabbers, shrimpers, fin fishermen, etc.). Most of the settlement only accounts for three to five years of loss, and three years have already passed. The Arnesens have operated at an almost 50 percent loss of income the past two years, and the fisheries keep declining. According to a study reported recently in the Los Angeles Times, the impact so far parallels that of the fishery collapse in Alaska after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. Their red herring industry was destroyed and never came back. How can these families be expected to rely on that as their livelihood?

(L) Lauren reads Bloomberg BusinessWeek while waiting to board the plane to Louisiana; (R) Aleena and her cousins eat popsicles after swimming all day. (Images by Jessey Dearing)
So it seems like this already tough situation just keeps getting tougher. Media outlets everywhere have been reporting on the huge payout from BP to the government and through the claims process. Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently published a cover story that was particularly sympathetic to BP’s plight.

We’ve spent a lot of time down there witnessing what this whole ordeal has done to communities and families as well as the ongoing degradation of Louisiana’s $2.3 billion per year industry made up of small businesses and individual people like David and Kindra Arnesen.

Last year, BP took in $376 billion in revenue, according to BusinessWeek. Their profit, according to their own press release, for 2012 was just shy of $12 billion, after accounting for the “non-operating items” related to the oil spill. BP has funneled a lot of money into clean up, restoration and individual claims — about $25 billion so far and other pre-tax funds set aside — under the guise of doing “the right thing.” However, in practice, it seems to be an effort to make people settle early, before any longterm impact can be determined, scientifically or otherwise.

BP promised to make the people in Gulf Coast communities whole, to make it right. The Arnesens, at this point, do not feel that will happen, and feel they are at a critical point now: they need to leave, but how soon can they and to where?

More images from the trip:

Kindra and little David look out into the marshes from the top of the boat as they return from offshore fishing all day with David. (Image by Lauren Frohne)

(L) The fireworks selection at the outpost closest to the Arnesens, just up the river road; (R) Aleena and her cousins hang out in the pool Kindra and David put up in the yard for the summer. (Images by Lauren Frohne)

Lauren films with the Canon C100 in the Arnesens’ house. (Image by Jessey Dearing)

Jessey films the sunset over the marshes just outside of the Venice Marina. (Image by Lauren Frohne)
Three years and we keep on working…

(NOTE: Most images in this post were taken with our iPhones or using Instagram)

Other recent news articles:
The Daily Beast: What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know About the 2010 Gulf Spill
Al Jazeera: US witness claims BP gas explosion cover-up
NY Times Op-Ed: Justice, Louisiana Style
NY Times: BP Challenges Settlements in Gulf Oil Spill

One Response to “Weighing options, coping with decisions”

  1. […] for Spilling Over, a documentary that I’ve been working on for three years with Lauren. Check out our latest update on the progress of the film and the last shoot. Aleena begs her dad to let her go mudslinging in […]