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article imageFlorida, Louisiana residents’ perceptions differ on BP spill

By Lynn Herrmann     Apr 14, 2011 in Environment
Durham - One year after BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, new data reveals Louisiana residents differ from Florida residents in their perceptions of current and long-term effects of the oil spill, despite nearly equal economic compensation.
Researchers gathered data last summer during the BP catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico showing perceived effects of the oil spill on family, community, environment, and level of trust of agencies associated with the disaster varies greatly between residents of Florida and Louisiana.
The report, The Social Impact of the Gulf Oil Disaster: Diverging Views From Communities in Florida and Louisiana (pdf), by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute provides information on how Gulf coast residents in the two states perceive the oil spill’s impact
The Carsey Institute’s Community and the Environment in Rural America (CERA) initiative, created in 2007, conducted the survey by telephone interviews late last summer, while oil was still discharging from the Macondo well site into the Gulf’s waters, and involved 2,023 residents of the Gulf coast. Among that number were 1,017 residents of Plaquemines and Terrebonne parishes in Louisiana and 1,006 residents in Florida’s Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties.
In a UNH news release, Jessica Ulrich, research assistant at the Carsey Institute and doctoral student in sociology at UNH, said: “Louisiana residents were more likely than Floridians to say their family suffered major economic setbacks because of the spill, to expect compensation by BP, and plan to leave the region as a result of the spill.”
“Louisianans also were more likely to think their state and local governments were doing an excellent job responding to the spill and to trust newspapers as a source of information regarding the spill,” Ulrich added.
Among the findings in the research, some were expected while several offered a glimpse into the perceptions of people bound by a region yet separated by borders influencing livelihoods. The information shows Florida and Louisiana have received remarkably similar compensations (amounting to $682 million and $698 million respectively, as of December 2010).
Florida residents perceived the oil spill as having a greater impact on tourism while Louisiana respondents were most concerned about the disaster’s impact on fishing and oil industries.
The research shows that, at the time, Louisianans were more than twice as likely as Floridians to believe theirs local (39% v. 17%) and state (30% v. 7%) governments were doing an excellent job in response to the catastrophe. At the same time, the majority of Gulf coast residents surveyed felt BP and the federal government were doing a poor to fair job in their handling of the crisis.
While the damage to the Gulf and its marine wildlife is still unfolding, nearly one-half (48%) of respondents to the survey perceived environmental and wildlife damage resulting from the spill to be the most serious issue.
At the time of the survey, the majority of Gulf coast residents felt the economy, fishing industry, wildlife, and beaches would recover within a few years of the spill
Another finding some might find surprising was trust placed in the source of information on the BP oil spill. The data reveals that scientists led the way, with 52% of respondents placing their trust in them. Environmental organizations (37%), newspapers (34%), and network TV news (26%) were followed by BP (18%). BP beat out websites and blogs (12%) as a trusted source of information on the spill.
At the time of the survey, only 16 percent of Florida respondents and 18 percent of those questioned in Louisiana had been compensated or expected compensation from BP for their losses.
Since 2007, the CERA initiative has conducted almost 19,000 telephone surveys with randomly chosen American adults (18 years old and above) from a dozen varied rural locations with respect to socioeconomic and environmental changes to their lives an communities.
“CERA surveys, such as the one conducted in the Gulf in the wake of the BP spill, can gather important subjective information about perceptions of changes occurring in rural America. The findings can be utilized by local leaders, policy makers, and disaster response teams to help foster healthy and sustainable communities that can rebound from -- and perhaps prevent -- even large-scale disasters like the BP oil spill,” Ulrich added.
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