Deja Vu One Year after the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
As the one-year anniversary of the deadly BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill nears, the Southern Environmental Law Center today called on Congress to fix systemic problems with oil drilling and the oil industry that the Presidential Oil Spill Investigation Commission identified as leading to the disaster. Problems that led to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill repeat today as big oil companies resume risky deepwater drilling under assurances that their operations have no potential for significant environmental impact, including an oil spill.
“A year after the deadly BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, it’s déjà vu—Congress and oil companies are proceeding much as if the blowout and oil spill never happened,” said Derb Carter, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. “Similar risky operations continue today, relying on similar oil company assurances and scant environmental review while life in and around the Gulf suffers. Over and over, investigations find systemic problems that Congress could fix, yet Congress still hasn’t acted and big oil companies have returned to business as usual after the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”
In the year since the oil spill, Congress failed to address key commission recommendations (detailed in accompanying fact sheet) including improving oversight of oil companies, increasing the liability cap and financial responsibility requirements of oil companies engaged in risky oil drilling, and creating a transparent and rigorous oil spill risk analysis for better oil spill response. Instead, a Congressional committee just approved a set of bills that virtually eliminates environmental safeguards and forces immediate drilling in many places.
New deepwater wells continue to rely on subsea blowout preventers as the main line of defense. A forensic study shows that the pressures of the deepwater well overwhelmed the blowout preventer and it failed to prevent the blowout that resulted in over 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Today, deepwater operations continue to rely on the same inadequate environmental impact analysis that BP used for the Deepwater Horizon before the oil spill instead of performing a more thorough impact assessment that would consider the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
As BP and other oil companies did before the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil companies again claim that an oil spill can be contained. The government estimates that BP captured 800,000 barrels of an estimated 4.9 million barrels spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days. A recently approved Shell Offshore Inc. deepwater exploration plan has a worst case blowout discharge of 184,000 barrels/day, around three times the amount of oil that the government estimates spilled per day during the BP oil spill. Yet, press reports indicate that oil companies believe in the adequacy of two untested systems that they assert could currently contain 55,000 to 60,000 barrels/day if they are unable to cap the well—only a fraction of a potential deepwater spill from Shell’s own estimate–and only after one to three weeks of uncontrolled spill from a blowout.
While BP and other oil companies repeat claims that operations like the Deepwater Horizon will have little or no negative impact on life in and around the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast communities, the seafood industry and tourism are still recovering, and spilled oil still darkens marshes and beaches. Recent press reports indicate that oysters in the Gulf have been devastated, as many as one in three crabs that are pulled up die before boats can reach the dock, and Gulf shrimpers are still pulling up oil in their nets. Almost a year after the spill occurred, scientists are finding dead bottlenose dolphins with oil from the spill and an alarming spike in dolphin deaths—59 dead in February 2011 alone, including 36 premature or stillborn babies, which is nine times the average number for the years 2002 through 2009. Dead bacteria and spilled oil coat the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, killing and harming seafloor life, according to University of Georgia researchers.
Note to Editors:
The two main containment systems are from Helix Energy Solutions Group and Marine Well Containment Company and the systems are detailed on their websites: http://www.helixesg.com/ and http://marinewellcontainment.com/