(New Orleans) St. Bernard Parish's Murphy Oil Refinery, responsible for the largest residential oil spill in history, is now the subject of an award winning play. Playwright Mary Nagle has won the 2007 - 2008 Texas Non Profit Theatre POPS Contest for her play "Welcome to Chalmette." Murphy's catastrophic oil spill and its effects on residents is the subject of the play.
"I wrote this play because the residents of Chalmette have stories that Americans need to hear," said Ms. Nagle. "Not only did they survive Hurricane Katrina, but they also survived the largest residential oil spill in the history of mankind. Americans have many important lessons to learn from their stories of survival."
Texas Nonprofit Theatres (TNT) sponsors an annual playwriting contest, and Ms. Nagle is one of seven winners of this year's award. The play will be produced by Henderson County Performing Arts Center in Athens, Texas.
The play, commissioned by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, was first produced by Tulane law students at the Tulane Environmental Law conference in 2007. It is based on interviews with residents of St. Bernard who were affected by the oil spill. Officials with Murphy Oil refused to be interviewed for the play, despite repeated requests.
Despite the known toxic hazards associated with oil, many families continue to live in the area of the oil spill. Settlement of a law suit created a buy out program for some residents, but not for all. "Nothing can get rid of the oil. It will be oozing underneath the ground for years to come," said Anne Rolfes, Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, "I fear for the future when people become sick from that spill."
The Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency have come under fire since Katrina for their lackadaisical response to the spill. "They didn't warn me at all about the danger of being in the area, about the danger to my health," said Joy Lewis, a former resident who returned to her home just days after the storm. "They didn't warn me, and Murphy knew that the oil went into the neighborhood."
Despite Murphy's atrocious performance during Katrina, the refinery has submitted permits to expand. Neighbors have made their concerns clear to local government and refinery officials. Refinery operations have an effect on the willingness of long time residents to remain. "Katrina put mud and dirt and sand into the area, but Murphy covered it all up with their oil. All of that sunk into the ground and contaminated my land, and that's one of the reasons I didn't go back, definitely," said Mrs. Lewis.