• esidents along the Gulf of Mexico coast experienced a wide range of impacts from the record-breaking oil spill that followed the explosion, in April 2010, of a British Petroleum (BP) oil rig. Louisiana and Florida residents received the largest share of BP-related claims, reflecting the substantial economic burden these states faced in connection to this disaster.1 It will be years before the area can accurately assess the amount of damage to the region’s coastal environment, marine ecosystems, and its economically and culturally important fishing, oil, and tourism industries. • •
ISSUE BRIEF NO. 25 SPRING 2011
I N S T I T U T E
The Social Impact of the Gulf Oil Disaster
Diverging Views From Communities in Florida and Louisiana
JESSICA D. ULRICH
Nearly one-half of all Gulf Coast residents (48 percent6) perceived damage to the environment and wildlife as the most serious result of the oil spill. Perceptions regarding the impact of the spill reflect the economic differences in the two states—Floridians are most concerned about effects on tourism and Louisianans on the fishing and oil industries. The majority of Gulf Coast residents thought that the economy, fishing industry, beaches, and wildlife would recover within a few years after the spill. Gulf Coast residents had little faith in BP to rectify the situation after the oil spill. Fifty-nine percent did not trust the information BP provided about the spill, and 69 percent thought BP was doing a poor or fair job responding effectively to the spill. Although more than one-half of the respondents from both states experienced either major or minor economic effects from the Gulf oil spill, only 16 percent of Floridians and 18 percent of Louisianans have been compensated or expect that BP will compensate them for the losses. Louisianans were more than twice as likely as Floridians to think that their state and local governments were doing an excellent job responding to the spill. Approximately threefourths (77 percent) of Gulf Coast residents thought that the federal government was doing a poor or fair job responding. Nine out of ten Gulf Coast residents plan to remain in the region despite the economic and environmental impacts of the spill. Those planning to move because of the spill are more likely to be Louisianans than Floridians.
CERA Survey in the Gulf Coast
Since 2007, the Carsey Institute’s Community and the Environment in Rural America (CERA) initiative has surveyed almost 19,000 rural Americans about the socioeconomic and environmental changes in their lives and communities. As part of the CERA initiative, Carsey researchers surveyed 2,023 residents of the Gulf Coast following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010 (see Figure 1). During the late summer, while oil was still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, telephone interviews were conducted with 1,017 residents of Louisiana’s Plaquemines and Terrebonne parishes and 1,006 residents of Florida’s Bay,2 Gulf, and Franklin counties.3 Respondents were asked how they perceived the oil spill to be affecting their families, communities, and the environment, their levels of trust in sources of information about the spill, and whether they perceived institutional responses to the spill as effective. Data was also gathered about respondents’ general demographic characteristics.4 This brief uses data from the CERA survey5 to analyze residents’ perceptions of the spill shortly after the incident. This research provides important insights that can inform disaster relief efforts in the future to better meet the needs of those affected.
Louisiana and Florida have received similar economic compensation from BP (amounting to $698 million and $682 million, respectively7). Although it is still uncertain what the long-term damage will be to either state’s economy, communities, or natural environment and wildlife, the...
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