Despite BP spill 6 years ago, the government is about to lease new areas for offshore drilling

From ToxicLeaks

Even though the Gulf of Mexico is still reeling from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the 3 month oil leak that caused extensive damage to the area, the government steams ahead in its project to lease new areas of the Gulf and even areas in the Arctic for offshore drilling. To that end, a public meeting was held in New Orleans, two days short of the 6th anniversary of the disaster, a mandatory step that is bringing the threat of the new drillings closer. However, environmental groups are fighting this project and have already achieved a big victory : this plan no longer includes Atlantic offshore drilling. This is proof that the fight against fossil fuels can be won and that we must keep the pressure on the government so that it doesn't keep obeying the fossil fuel lobbies.

A plan to lease more areas in the Gulf and in the Arctic for offshore drilling[edit | edit source]

The Obama administration is planning to lease more areas in the Gulf and in the Arctic to offshore drilling. These maritime areas are owned by the public, and are leased to private companies for a limited time during which they can drill fossil fuels. It's the same things as the federal lands that have been leased for fracking. This is why this plan is so outrageous, not only will it lead to pollution of the local environment and greenhouse gas emissions, but it's going to happen on areas that belong to the American citizens. Therefore the government should listen to them instead of caving in to private interests ! The plan is to auction off these areas between 2017 and 2022 but first, the government has to face the people to present it and on April 18th they held a public meeting in New Orleans to that end, with heavy police presence, to make sure people felt free to speak their mind of course. And the environmentalist organizations that attended the presentation realized that the plan totally downplayed the environmental risks caused by offshore drilling.

The plan presents a flawed assessment of environmental risks[edit | edit source]

This assessment was presented to the New Orleanians at the public meeting and it was shockingly dismissive of the numerous environmental threats that offshore drilling causes. First of all, the geniuses responsible for this assessment seem to believe that another spill like the one BP caused is “unexpected” and “unlikely to occur”. Indeed the federal regulators claim that the new rules that are to be created will make a new disaster impossible. These rules would force oil companies to control the kinds of fluids used to extract the oil, to implement more safety devices and to increase monitoring from the shore. However, these rules haven't been voted yet and how are we to trust that an administration that has opened the country to fracking will honor his word to make offshore drilling safe(r) ? Moreover, who can know what the upcoming administration will decide and if they will maintain this regulation ? And more importantly, since when have fossil fuel companies agreed to play by the rules ? Leasing these new areas is just too risky giving the uncertainty there is on the evolution of these regulations in the upcoming years ! The EIS also explains how wastewater discharge, ship traffic increase and oil leaks can harm the wildlife of the oceans like birds, sea turtles or dolphins. However, the EIS doesn't take into account all the impacts offshore drilling has on the planet, namely the increased global warming caused by the burning of this fossil fuel. All in all, this EIS is far from accurately evaluating the risk and is a symbol of the irresponsibility of the Obama administration 6 years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion that can still be felt in the Gulf area.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster, proof of the danger of offshore drilling[edit | edit source]

Indeed, the explosion of BP's offshore drilling rig six years ago will forever be the proof and the symbol that the extraction of fossil fuels is a dangerous endeavour, especially at sea, and that this practice should be abandoned to give way to cleaner energies like renewables. Deepwater Horizon was a floating oil rig that was leased to BP to drill oil from the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, a few dozen miles off the coast of Louisiana. This rig had a history of problems that had caused severe pollution before the disaster of 2010. Between 2000 and 2010 the Coast Guards had issued 18 citations for pollution and fires on the rig. Besides, in 2009, these risks were well-known by BP : the company's engineers warned that the metal casing BP was using would not resist high-pressures and might collapse. However their warning went unheeded and on April 20th 2010 an eruption of gas and wastewater ignited which led to a row of explosions on the oil rig. The blowout preventer was damaged and was useless to stop the crisis. This led to the deaths of 11 of the crew members and ruptured the oil well, causing a massive oil leak into the sea. The oil flowed into the ocean for 87 days before it was stopped, and 200 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf. This was the worst oil leak at sea in the history of the U.S and BP's negligence was its direct cause ! But BP's handling of the crisis was also criminal. Instead of owning up to its mistakes and doing everything it could to help the cleanup, BP actually tried to cover it up by dumping 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants even though they were extremely harmful to the environment and people. This was proven by a 1987 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that stated : "The acute neurotoxic effects of organic solvent exposure in workers and laboratory animals are narcosis, anesthesia, central nervous system (CNS) depression, respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, and death.” The chemicals listed by the NIOSH were the ones used by BP to disperse the oil and this actually made the toxicity of the polluted area 40 times worse than the one the oil alone had created. Joe Yerkes, a Florida fisherman, reports that after he joined the cleanup of the disaster he became extremely sick, with nose and ear bleeding, and he witnessed the deaths of five friends that had worked on the cleanup with him. A gruesome testimony of the crimes of BP in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And the area is still struggling to overcome the pollution caused by the crisis.

An area still suffering from the consequences of the disaster[edit | edit source]

The coast of the Gulf of Mexico is still reeling from the impact of the disaster. Many sensitive ecosystems have been severely damaged by the spill, especially the wetlands in Louisiana were the contaminated seawater polluted a great area of land. The populations of the coast have suffered greatly from BP’s recklessness as well. According to Dr. Riki Ott in 2014, a marine biologist, there was "clear indications of widespread toxic chemical exposure across the four-state impact zone of BP's oil disaster (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida)." She added that it was “pretty clear to [her], after spending a year in the Gulf coastal communities during 2010 and 2011, that the suite of illnesses that developed during this time were above and beyond the background level of illnesses incurred in the Gulf.” Dr. Ott described the analysed the prevalent symptoms in this coastal area and found that they could all be linked to oil and dispersant exposure. "Medical literature supports that these are the symptoms, and I would expect to see increased rates of early-term miscarriages for women, early developmental issues for children born to women who were exposed to breathing these fumes and vapors, and also continuing chemical hypersensitivity," Ott said. What's worse is that BP hasn't assumed responsibility for this disaster at all ! Even though a federal court condemned BP to pay $20 billion in settlement for the spill to the five states that were affected by it, BP managed to avoid actually having to pay anything because the settlement allowed it to subtract the money from its taxes, as business expenses, which means that BP will actually pay very little even though their negligence was criminal and led to the deaths and illnesses of countless people and a severe impact on the maritime and coastal ecosystems.

An environmental fight that can be won[edit | edit source]

The scope of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is proof that offshore drilling must be stopped and that this plan to lease more areas in the Gulf of Mexico must be fought every step of the way. And this fight can be won. This has become clear since the Obama administration refused to open the Atlantic Coast to offshore drilling even though fossil fuel companies had been pushing it with their usual weapons : million dollar campaigns and intense lobbying. The fact that the Obama administration didn't heed big oil's call to open federal owned sea areas is a sign that political leaders can be convinced to say no to fossil fuels. Especially since the U.S has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to honor the COP21 deal. And this has heartened environmentalists from the Gulf in their fight against these new drillings. “We are inspired by the victory against drilling on the Atlantic Coast,” said Anne Rolfes, head of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a group that has organised rallies to criticize this offshore drilling plan. Environmental groups are gaining momentum and want to convince the next president of the U.S to stop all offshore drilling by not leasing new public waters. To that end, in September 2015, 400 organizations came together to write a letter and remind the White House that forbidding all further drillings on federal lands and waters could help prevent the emission of 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas, in other words half of the potential emissions from the U.S, which could go a long way toward meeting the target set at the Paris conference. This pressure must be maintained, citizens must get involved so that the leaders of this country have to heed the warnings of environmentalists and brings all fossil fuel drillings to an end.

The lessons from the Deepwater Horizon blowup have not been learned. Despite the fact that BP let this disaster happen and mismanaged the cleanup, leading to severe pollution of the Gulf of Mexico, new areas of public waters are to be leased to oil companies in the Gulf. This will enhance the risk for the inhabitants of the coastal states, when they are already recovering with great difficulty from the leak. However, the refusal of the Obama administration to open up federal waters to drilling in the Atlantic is proof that the environmentalist fight against offshore drilling can be won and that all those that would not see the Gulf of Mexico continue to live under the threat of a massive leak like the one of 2010 need to speak up and make the political leaders refuse to lease public waters.