"I'm worried to hell and back, so is everybody else," says Roland "Mac" McRae, 74, owner of the Cedar Point Fishing Pier on Alabama's Gulf Coast. We spoke by phone on May 29. His business leases time on a fishing pier located just a few hundred miles from the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig, which on April 22 caught fire and sank, unleashing what is now the largest and most destructive oil spill in U.S. history.
As local fishermen stay home and business plummets, McCrae tries not to think too far ahead. "I don't even go there. All my life, I've had a little jingle in my pocket," he says. "To me, life's not worth living if you don't have a little jingle in your pocket." McRae is one of an estimated 14 million people living along the Gulf of Mexico, millions of whom are likely to be affected one way or another the oil spill. "When they finally close that well, if they can," he reflects, "the entire ecology of the Bay and the Gulf of Mexico will never be the same."
isn't the only unknown. More than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez dumped 11
million gallons of crude into Alaska's Prince William Sound and caused billions
in damages, the United States is again facing a massive oil spill and a vast
undetermined price tag. But this time, the rules are different. The legal
system, also entering uncharted waters, must now grapple with two difficult questions
in fielding the concerns of people like McRae. The first, of course, is: Who's
to blame? The second is: Who will pay?
The first answer is easy; the second, not so much.
BP, of course, is taking the blame. The company was leasing the rig from Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling company, and managed operations with subcontractors such as Halliburton, when the disaster occurred. The explosion and sinking of the rig has thus far released between 18.6 million gallons and 29.5 million gallons of oil into the blue waters of the Gulf, according to the latest government estimates. On its website, BP says it "takes full responsibility for responding to the Deepwater Horizon incident"; however, the company has already attempted to share the blame with its contractors during intense questioning at a congressional hearing.