Sheppard shifts focus of oil spill to the people

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in Auburn News | Comments Off

Sheppard shifts focus of oil spill to the people

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion led to millions of gallons of oil being poured into the gulf, but for the people who both resided and made their living on the coast, it seemed too horrific and unbelievable. How could something like this have ever happened to them?

“There was at first great denial,” said Judy Sheppard, associate professor for Auburn University’s Department of Communication and Journalism.

Sheppard presented a talk as part of the Discover Auburn Lecture Series on the BP oil spill entitled, “Deep Water in the Deep South.” Things were starting to pick up for the businesses in Gulf Shores, Ala. Tourists were planning vacations to the gulf again and this was finally going to be a “golden year.”

“They had this hopeful spirit, ‘Finally we are going to get back to where we were,’” she said. Then news began to develop about what would become known as the worst man-made environmental disaster in US history, and then “It was as if the people visiting the town could not get out fast enough.”

This had become a devastating ordeal for businesses that relied on busy travel seasons in order to stay alive. BP took immediate blame for the public relations disaster, and they were determined to make it right. Sheppard decided to do research on the subject for her own book. “I was interested in the people (of the area), and I wasn’t really interested in BP’s side of the story,” she says. “I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless.”

BP could clean up the coast, but it couldn’t clean up the lives of those who relied on the Gulf of Mexico to make a living. “Those who were already on the edge of poverty, got pushed over,” she said. Sheppard’s research on the oil spill was intended to uncover the anger of the residents affected by the spill, but she also wanted to reveal the region’s resilience and determination that was shown during this time.

“The coast isn’t defenseless,” she said. “The coast can only be as resilient as we make it.”

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Were you or somebody you know affected by the BP oil spill?

How can we prevent something like this from happening again?