The Murphy Oil “Conspiracy”

          I was putting off writing this blog post (great start, I know) when I came across the Reddit post, “What conspiracy theory do you 100% buy into and why?” Two users replied that their relatives experienced a double-whammy during Hurricane Katrina. Soon after the storm, Murphy Oil Refinery reported that one of their oil containers had ruptured and leaked onto the surrounding area, namely in the neighborhood St. Bernard Parish (located just outside of New Orleans). Ghost510 comments: “After the clean up the land was deemed uninhabitable and the oil company was able to purchase all the land for very, very cheap. Many people that were affected and in the area believe that the oil company did it on purpose, and I tend to believe them.” 2EdgedDeath also says: “The whole thing was shady as hell.”

          So naturally I decided that this was coincidental and interesting enough to get me out of my procrastination rut. I found the following “Murphy Oil Spill Fact Sheet” written by the EPA in February 2006. It states that 1.05 million gallons of crude oil were released, affecting 1,800 homes in an area of 1 square mile. 5 canals were named to be affected as well. Oil spills like this one further emphasize the relationship between New Orleans and waste (crap, sludge, mud, crude oil, etc).  If Murphy Oil did not follow environmental safety protocol prior to the hurricane, or if they released the oil on purpose during the hurricane, they would certainly deserve a place as a “snake” on Solnit and Snedeker’s “Snake and Ladders” map on page 128 of Unfathomable City. *** The fact is, whether Murphy intentionally spilled the oil or not, thousands of people had to deal with this significant factor in addition to the destruction caused by the hurricane itself. This adds to the idea brought up by Beth in class that the victims of Hurricane Katrina were portrayed as lacking autonomy. Newt Gingrich had no trouble saying that New Orleans residents had a “failure of citizenship” and were “uneducated.” But when will we see the same labels being placed on corporations with much more control and power?   

          Finally, I would also like to relate this post to the discussion of Joseph Roach’s quote from Echoes in the Bone: “Echoes in the bone refer not only to a history of forgetting but to a strategy of empowering the living through the performance of memory” (page 34). The Reddit comments from above in addition to an NBC News article (no author given, September 2006) represent residents of the area affected by the Murphy Oil Spill who could not or would not return to their home. One Johnny Lewis says, “The neighborhood has disappeared off the face of the earth… I’m 70 years old and all I ever had — my roots — are gone.” This is a stark testimonial to the tragedy of forgetting: not only was Lewis encountering the qualms of getting older (memory loss and preparation for death), he suddenly had no tangible heirlooms, home, or neighborhood to pass on. Other residents, like Eileen Schwartz, decided to move back. The article states: “Her one-story house has new, blue siding provided by Murphy.” Select returning residents in addition to Murphy Oil itself are empowered by the benefits of their new situation. They might recall preferred memories, and even create some new ones. But anything that continues and grows on that square mile of land will be done on the foundation of forgetting.  

*** There is indeed an oil-related map included, “Oil and Water” on page 48, however, it is one of the lower-quality examples of cartography in the book, and is depicting the BP oil spill of 2010, making no mention of the Murphy oil spill of 2005.   

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