BP Oil Spill One Year Later: The Fight to Restore the Gulf

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

It’s been one year since the explosion that took 11 people’s lives and caused the subsequent oil spill that captured the world’s attention for months. The national media has since left the Gulf of Mexico and most people in the country have moved on with their lives. But for the residents of the Gulf coast states and the sea creatures that call the Gulf their home, the spill is still impacting their lives. Yet despite a lack of improvements in offshore drilling safety, there is a continued push for more offshore drilling that is threatening both marine and human welfare.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which pumped oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months, had devastating effects on the region. Hundreds of miles of fragile marshes and wetlands were contaminated with oil, throwing entire ecosystems off-balance. Many of the 15,700 species of sea life in the Gulf were severely impacted, from killing off phytoplankton and zooplankton to covering thousands of sea turtles in oil and killing hundreds more. The Gulf harbors 10 species of threatened shark, 6 species of endangered sea turtles, manatees, whales, dolphins and a vast array of fish (including spawning bluefin tuna). Many of these species were in direct contact with the oil, which can cause anything from eye and skin irritation to death, especially if ingested.

Even a year later, the spill is still causing harm – 153 dead dolphins have washed up on Gulf shores since January and fish have been found with deformities and strange lesions. Additionally, many industries of the Gulf are still feeling the impact of the spill, as tourism to the area has decreased and shrimp and oyster stocks have fallen (even after fishing closures were lifted). On top of this, consumer confidence of the safety of Gulf seafood is still quite low.

Despite the destructive effects the oil spill had on the Gulf, not much has changed in the industry to make drilling any safer. Working with our champions and others in the ocean environmental community, we helped pass the CLEAR Act in the House.  This bill would have improved drilling safety and liability by requiring companies to prove their drilling equipment is safe and eliminating the cap on liabilities related to oil spills. Unfortunately, the Senate didn’t pass any comparable bills, so we’re stuck with the same weak policy we had before the spill. The oil industry hasn’t done much to step up either, as there has been little work to create new technology to prevent spills or contain them if they occur.

Nevertheless, House leadership still believes we need to expand offshore drilling. Multiple bills have been passed out of Committee to accelerate the pace of drilling, avoid environmental safeguards and open up drilling in new areas. Natural Resources Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA) has pronounced, “drilling is safe,” yet he appears to be acting completely on faith.

Expanding deepwater offshore drilling in the Gulf is a bad idea until the industry proves it can both prevent spills and immediately stop them if they do occur. Drilling in new areas like the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Arctic would present new and different risks that aren’t worth taking. The U.S. holds around 5% of the world’s oil but uses over 20% of its supply.  Mathematically, we simply can’t drill our way to energy independence, so we have to look for alternatives to fossil fuels.

The House will likely vote on Hastings bad drilling bills very soon.  Beating them there will be difficult, and the real fight will likely shape up in the Senate.  We’ll be working with our champions in D.C. and will need the support of champions in the ocean community to protect clean coastal water and critical habitat.

Date Posted: April 21, 2011 @ 9:33 am Comments Off

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