An edited version of this article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 4/23/04,
Page A14, Opinion; Copyright 2004 by Beth David

Oil spill film raises crucial questions

One year ago, oil from Bouchard Transportation’s Barge 120 started clumping up on the shores of our beloved SouthCoast.

Twelve months later, many of us struggle to understand how this disaster could have happened, what it really means for our precious patch of paradise, and who is responsible for helping us recover from it.

If any of these questions are on your mind, let me recommend a new documentary titled “The B-120 Incident,” photographed and produced by local film maker Arnold Parsons under the auspices of the Fairhaven Fisheries Institute. The film will premiere at the Whaling Museum on Tuesday, April 27th, the one year anniversary of the spill. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Mr. Parsons found himself perfectly situated to document the mess that tens of thousands of gallons of No. 6 oil created on my unsuspecting Fairhaven shoreline and beyond. He was already out on the beach shooting footage for a general piece about Buzzards Bay when word of the oil slicks reached his ears. He immediately started documenting the carnage.

The result is a highly professional, extremely informative, downright mesmerizing 42 minutes chronicling this largely preventable disaster.

Mr. Parsons has compelling footage from Westport to Wareham, and the comments to go with it. I particularly liked the Westport Harbormaster’s short, but pithy, remarks.

Some people may see this movie as somewhat of an ode to the dedicated clean-up crews. And well it could be. The footage of them filling bags with black gunk and tossing them into heaps shows just how back-breaking the work was.

The film includes a poignant clip of last year’s special service for those hardworking, oil-smeared out-of-towners, held at the Star of the Sea Chapel.

He also includes many shots of bulging barges -- floating time bombs -- as they pass through our fragile bay. His case for double hulls is so simple, so powerful, it defies comprehension that these beasts are still allowed to ply our waters.

Mr. Parsons is a native son. He grew up playing on local beaches, and his bias towards West Island is somewhat evident, although easily forgiven. Hoppy’s Landing suffered the brunt of the blow from the oil-spewing barge, and much of the footage focuses on that tiny strip of land.

To see, again, the futile efforts to painstakingly wipe off thousands of rocks is sobering. The image of earth-movers ripping up the beach on Long Island is a must-see for anyone who has ever walked a rocky shore. And the heartbreak is unstoppable as you watch the “hot-washing” and hear Mr. Parsons’s deep voice tell us that it failed. And then there are the oil-soaked loons.

Last year I wrote that Bouchard Transportation should pay: “A payment large enough to convince every company everywhere that it is more economically sound to be environmentally responsible than to be reckless.”

We now have the results of the much-anticipated investigation. I’m told that ten million dollars is a large fine for a disaster like this. The clean-up cost more than 40 million.

I wonder, as a normal taxpayer with a rudimentary understanding of corporate tax law: does this mean that Bouchard gets to deduct the 40 million it spent on the spill and only pay out 10 million in fines? By my calculations, they end up 30 million dollars ahead of the game.

And guess who loses again?

Proceeds from the April 27 event will be used to provide complimentary copies of “The B-120 Incident” to local schools, libraries and other public places.

Email Mr. Parsons at to order a copy on VHS or DVD