Crude Caution

The images of oil-covered birds, fish and marine mammals haunt us. The tar balls wash up onto formerly pristine beaches, the dispersants seep in long tendrils under the surface. Wetlands and estuaries are threatened, and the government and BP only just now seem to have some sort of grasp on managing the spill. We want reassurance, and familiarity, and in that sense, we’re in the same boat as Steve Fabian.

Fabian has been bringing shrimp and seafood on refrigerated trucks to Iowa from the Gulf since 1977, and continues, even under the looming threat of BP’s disaster. The Fabian Seafood truck is a familiar sight in front of the Dairy Queen on Riverside Drive, and if Fabian has his way, it will continue to be, despite hardship and ecological peril.

Fabian Seafood is located in Galveston, Texas, about 300 miles, at the time of this writing, from the plumes of oil emanating from the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Fabian’s own sources for seafood haven’t been affected yet, but he says, “From week to week we don’t know, there could be another blowout, a hurricane could blow [the oil] this way, it’s scary.” His fears are justified–the entire coast of Texas is dotted with drilling rigs. As Americans have discovered in the process of investigation after the Deepwater blowout, many of the companies who drill in the Gulf have minimal or even nonexistent disaster management plans, some of them simply copied and pasted from extant plans that were written for Arctic drilling, referring to conditions and wildlife that don’t even exist within the Gulf. This does little to boost anyone’s confidence, Fabian included, in the ability of the oil companies to manage their operations safely, including BP, who he says has been “lying the whole time,” with regards to oil leakage rates. While he takes cold comfort in the fact that the majority of the spillage seems to be heading east, he says he is angry about the way the spill has been managed, and the ecosystems that are currently being damaged by the flow of oil.

After Katrina, much of the shrimp industry along the eastern portion of the Gulf Coast, from Louisiana on, was wiped out. The Texas shrimp and seafood industry is now threatened by a man-made disaster. His main concern now, he says, is the possibility of a hurricane, which if it was severe enough, could shut down the entire Gulf of Mexico seafood industry. Already, in areas where the spill has reached, young crabs have been found with oil embedded under their shells, a nightmare scenario for Fabian. Thus far, the Galveston area has been spared, though there have been scares. Recently, a few tar balls washed up on their shores. Researchers and officials assured the locals that they had come from the hull of a ship that had moved through the spill, picking up the oil as it went, and then sailed to Galveston.

For a while, the fear of seafood contamination drove prices up, according to Fabian, driving them up to a dollar-fifty or two dollars per pound higher than they had been in some places. Fabian only ended up going up sixty cents or so per pound, he said, and believes that panic buying had begun to slow, with prices starting to go down.

With recent efforts to cap the well, hopes are high for some kind of break from the relentless bad news from the Gulf, and Iowa City residents will have the chance to ask Fabian directly. The Fabian Seafood truck will be in its customary spot, in front of DQ, on August 9th, weighing out shrimp to loyal customers, hopefully with good news in tow, as well.