One Year After Spill, Widow of Rig Worker Continues to Struggle with Loss

Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the BP well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The eruption led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Beyond the cost to the environment, there was a tremendous human loss — 11 workers were killed in the initial explosion. For 15 years, tool pusher, Jason Anderson, worked for the company Transocean �"- a contractor BP hired to operate the well. Host Michel Martin speaks with his wife, Shelley Anderson, about her family's continued struggle to cope with the loss.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Coming up, we hear from a daughter of Malcolm X about a controversial new biography of the late black nationalist leader. A conversation with Ilyasah Shabazz is later in the program.

But, first, today marks the first anniversary of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, started by an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Two-hundred million gallons of oil polluted the waters and shores of the Gulf Coast. And the environmental and financial devastation is still being felt there.

The enormity of the damage, though, often seems to overshadow how it began, with an explosion that cost the lives of 11 workers and injured 17 others. Their families are struggling to recover from the loss. We wanted to check in with a member of one of those families to find out how they are doing. Yesterday we reached Shelly Anderson, who lost her husband Jason aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Shelly joined us from her home in Midfield, Texas. Also on the line with us was Shelly Anderson's attorney Ernest Cannon. He was at his home office in Stephenville, Texas. And I began by telling Mrs. Anderson how very sorry we all are for her loss.

Ms. SHELLY ANDERSON: It's OK. I've learned in the past year that it doesn't matter what somebody says, you can't normally just make it any worse than what it already is. You can't say something wrong to me if you're using your heart and you don't mean to say something mad, it doesn't hurt. Not as much as it already does.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for that. Do you mind if I ask you how you first found out that something was wrong?

Ms. ANDERSON: I saw it on TV the first time. My friend called me and asked me if I had been watching the news, that they were talking about Jason's rig on TV and that she was positive it was Jason's rig. She made me watch it again and that's when they started saying the name of the rig. But it took several hours for Transocean to call and let us know that anything had happened. We called the 800 numbers they told us to call, and all we could get was voice messages, leaving messages, waiting for people to call us back. It took a while.

MARTIN: How long after the actual explosion was it before you finally found out that something very terrible had happened from the company? How long was it before they actually confirmed what you had heard in media reports?

Ms. ANDERSON: All we had heard from the company was that there was an explosion and that the rig had been evacuated. We didn't know if Jason had made it off of the rig. We tried calling cell phones and the rig number was busy. We watched the TV. We saw one man being lifted by the helicopter from the baskets. We were just hoping to catch a glimpse of Jason. We called the hospitals all along the coast. It was a while. It was - I think it - I don't - that time frame is all mushy in my brain. I don't remember the exact time that they called and told me that Jason was one of the 11 missing.

MARTIN: Have you been getting any help from the company since then? For example, did they help with funeral arrangements and have you been receiving any support in the year since this happened?

Ms. ANDERSON: Um...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Take your time.

Ms. ANDERSON: I think just because somebody brought it up to me, but I don't remember now, I think that Transocean might have offered to pay for Jason's funeral expenses, but I did. I paid for Jason's funeral. I paid for everything about it, other than donations from family and friends. I wrote those checks for all of that.

MARTIN: And what about since then? Is there, forgive me for having to ask, but has there been any insurance? Is there compensation when something like this, you know, happens? A death benefit?

Ms. ANDERSON: Jason had a life insurance policy that he paid for, that we got most of. There was a little bit of it that we weren't able to receive the check for just yet. Some things can get complicated because he did die at sea and there is no death certificate. So some things can get a little complicated in that area. Transocean has continued Jason's paychecks, which allow us to have insurance, but I have no idea when they're going to stop that.

I've heard that they stopped other people's. I've heard that they have - that they were going to stop ours after the anniversary and that last month would've been the last check, but I don't know for sure when it stops.

Mr. ERNEST CANNON (Attorney): Shelly, this is Ernest Cannon, would you tell Michel about our meeting with Transocean's lawyer when we tried to discuss with him how long you might receive Jason's wages or to come to some accommodation or some settlement with you? Would you tell her about Transocean's lawyer's attitude that evening?

Ms. ANDERSON: That evening, when we met with that Transocean lawyer there, he -I was just trying to tell them how much Jason meant to me and what Jason meant to me. And he didn't want to listen. Sorry. He didn't want to listen. He didn't want to listen to anything that I said. And he stood up and he walked out. And all I was trying to do was tell him about Jason.

There are lawyers from BP, Mr. Feinberg, Mr. Rozen, they're willing to listen. And they've reached out and they're ready to listen. But the one lawyer that I talked to from Transocean, I tried to tell him a Jason story and he didn't want to hear any part of it.

MARTIN: Mr. Cannon, were you there for this? Were you present?

Mr. CANNON: Yes, I was.

MARTIN: May I ask you what happened there?

Mr. CANNON: Yes. I had arranged a meeting for two purposes with Transocean's lawyer. One was so that my other client, who was injured, Kayla Palloway(ph) and Shelly could tell Transocean's lawyer how they felt. Jason, Shelly and Kayla were all extremely loyal to Transocean. So we set up the meeting for that purpose and I wanted to talk to them about settling the claims.

When Kayla had been - Shelly started telling the lawyer how they felt, he said he wasn't going to sit and listen to them be critical of Transocean and that he would see that, in so many words, that he would see that they paid for their insulting attitude about telling how they felt about Transocean abandoning them in their time of need when they had been loyal to them.

MARTIN: Well, can I ask you about that, Mr. Cannon? I'll direct this question to you. I'm going to give Shelly a minute. I understand from her that the company has continued his paycheck and has also continued the insurance coverage. What else are you looking for at this point? What else would you like to see happen?

Mr. CANNON: Well, in Ms. Anderson's case, when we had the meeting with Transocean's lawyer, I asked him how long they would continue to pay and as I understand it, am I correct, Shelly, that his response was that he thought through this April? In other words, that the payments of his salary would now end?

Ms. ANDERSON: After the anniversary. That's the way I understood him to say it.

Mr. CANNON: That's the way I understood it also. We would like for Transocean and BP and Halliburton and Cameron and the responsible parties to allow Shelly to have a case for us to take depositions, for us to see what caused the accident, for us to explain what her damages are, and to have an assessment just as we do in every other case in the country like this. And if we need to, go to court and try it to a jury and see what a jury will decide that Shelly's damages are.

Transocean particularly, and the other defendants have filed lawsuits against Shelly and the other people to keep them from having a case and to limit them to a very small amount.

MARTIN: What is the grounds there? If it's not - what is the basis of their suit? What's the allegation?

Mr. CANNON: Their suit against Shelly - they said, Shelly, the day after the Transocean CEO came to her kitchen and hugged her and said he'd take care of her, the next day, he had his company lawyers file suit against her, under what's called a limitation of liability law. Transocean's taking advantage of a 160-year-old law that technically tie these people up forever.

What their program is is they're trying to make it so difficult - as you can see the shape Shelly's in even a year later - they're trying to make her give up and go away and they won't have to pay them damage.

MARTIN: Now I understand that that's your interpretation of their intention, but I need to know, what is the allegation that they are making?

Ms. ANDERSON: They're trying to say that Jason died offshore is not the same as Jason dying onshore and on land. And that his life is not worth it to them if he's offshore. If he was on land, it would be a totally different situation and the law would not even apply. But because they say he died at sea and offshore, he's not worth as much. He's expendable.

MARTIN: Well, I appreciate your being willing to talk to us on such a difficult day, such a difficult time. But before I let you go, what would make it better? Is there anything that would make it better?

Ms. ANDERSON: Yeah. Get him to come home. That would make it all be better. Beyond that, I don't have an answer for that question. I have no idea. I've never lost a husband before. Never had to raise two kids by myself before. I don't know what would make it better other than just bring him home.

MARTIN: Shelly, I'm so sorry. Shelly Anderson is a mother of two. She's the wife of Jason Anderson who was one of the 11 workers who died after the explosion at the BP operated well in the Gulf of Mexico. She was with us from her home in Midfield, Texas. Ernest Cannon is her attorney. He was with us from his home office in Stephenville, Texas. I thank you both so much for joining us. Shelly, our thoughts are with you and with your family.

Ms. ANDERSON: I appreciate your prayers. That - that's what lifts me up every day.

Mr. CANNON: Michel, thank you.

MARTIN: We wanted to give Transocean an opportunity to respond to the claims made by Shelly Anderson and her attorney. So we reached out to Transocean. A representative for the company, Lou Colasuonno provided this statement.

Mr. LOU COLASUONNO (Representative, Transocean): Nothing is more important to Transocean than its people and their families. I mean, it's a core value of the company and a driving principle behind our efforts to reach amicable financial agreements with those who lost loved ones. And we're doing that while we continue to provide full pay and benefits to those people. And today, in fact, we're going to gather with the families and to privately commemorate the loss of those courageous men one year ago today.

I would like to set the record straight, Transocean is, in no way, no form suing widows and children who were affected by this accident. Any assertion to the contrary is simply untrue.

MARTIN: That was Lou Colasuonno, a spokesman for Transocean. In a moment we get the perspective of a reporter who's been covering this issue. Please stay with us as we continue the conversation on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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