There are many things we just do not know concerning the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon 45 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

We do not know just how much oil has really been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Some estimates of the flow of oil exploding from the sea floor put the volume equal to the Exxon Valdez spill -- every four days.

We do not know where that oil will eventually go. Some scientists believe that the prevailing winds will force the oil deeply into the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, while currents will carry the oil west to Texas and east to Florida. Some projections have the oil being carried up the East Coast, to Canada, and then to Europe. Huge plumes of undersea oil, some of it frozen for now, may move into any sea and onto any beach in the world.

We do not know how much of the oil will make landfall, where it will make landfall, or what the oil will do to the fish and wildlife of the Gulf Coast when it does make landfall. We do not know how to completely eliminate the oil from our beaches, rivers, and precious wetlands. It is sobering to realize that oil still remains from the Exxon Valdez spill, a spill that occurred over 20 years ago.

We do not know whether the hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants being used to break up the oil will prove far worse than the oil itself. These dispersants, which are highly toxic in their own right, can cause the oil to sink and settle on the delicate coral reefs of the Gulf. Indeed, we do not know whether any of the few remaining coral reefs of the Gulf will even survive this poisoning.

We do not know if the shrimp, the oysters, or the fish will ever come back. We do not know whether the dolphins and the turtles will survive this ordeal, or if they will simply leave or die. We do not know if the complex system of living things will be able to tolerate this catastrophe, or if the Gulf will be a dead sea, poisoned by oil and chemicals – and greed.

We do not know what effects this oil spill will have on the economy of the South or the nation’s economy for that matter. We do not know what impact it will have at the gas pump. We do not know how many jobs will be lost. We do not know how many communities will be wiped out. We do not know how many irreplaceable, invaluable, and distinctly American heritages along the Gulf Coast will be lost. Forever.

We do not even know when the oil will stop. The “Top Hat,” the “Junk Shot,” and the “Top Kill,” all are just theories that BP would like to try or have unsuccessfully tried. A relief well is the most certain solution, but even this approach will take months and is very difficult to accomplish on land. At a mile below the surface, the uncertainty grows exponentially.

However, we do know a few things:

- We know that BP will act consistent with its own interests. It always has, and always will. Make no mistake; this foreign oil company will first and foremost protect itself. If this means creating an information campaign designed to make people think that it will be fully accountable when the reality could not be further from the truth, then so be it. 

- If it means approaching fisherman at their lowest point and trying to get them to sign away their only chance at real, meaningful compensation later for a few thousand dollars now, then BP will do this too. 

- If it means spending more on lawyers than it does on clean up to avoid paying what it owes, then BP will do it. This we know.

- We know that the government will not be able to solve this problem. 

- We know that the government chose to neglect close supervision of BP’s action even knowing BP’s long and remarkable history of serious safety violations and significant criminal conduct. 

- We know three years before the spill, the government inexplicably agreed with BP that any spills would likely be “sublethal.” 

- We know that after the spill, the government cannot even get the key government employee responsible for overseeing BP to appear before Congress. He simply refused. 

- We know that the government cannot get BP to stop using the chemicals being pumped into the ocean at a horrific rate. We know the government will not be able to help us in this situation.

So, what can be done? Who can help us? At this point, our only hope is that the American people will take this matter into their own hands, use the laws and the civil process that exist to right these types of wrongs, and hold BP and the other companies involved accountable. We know there is no other option. Whether this will be enough is the final unknown, but it’s all we can do – and must do – instead of idly watching our sea die.

W.Mark Lanier is founder of The Lanier Law Firm, where he serves as the firm's lead litigation counsel. Mark Lanier currently represents several hundred clients affected by the BP Oil Spill.  

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