The Gulf Oil Spill
Posted Apr. 30, 2010 / Posted by: SBaumgartner
Click here to download Friends of the Earth fact sheets about the gulf oil spill.
On Thursday, April 22, the deep ocean oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to its sinking, the rig, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP, burned for 36 hours after a blowout in which 11 workers lost their lives.
This spill has become the deadliest and most massive in the history of the United States, officially eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill on May 27, 2010. It shows that oil drilling is inherently dirty and dangerous. Though BP was successful in cutting the riser pipe coming from the well and channeling about 15,000 barrels of oil per day to a tanker at the surface, the procedure also increased by at least 20 percent the amount of oil flowing out of the blown well. The most recent estimates of the volume of oil flowing into the gulf have been doubled in recent days.
This spill has had significant political, economic, and environmental repercussions. We have created this page as a resource with our analyses of these implications and information about our response to the spill, as well as some ideas on how we can move past fossil fuels.
In March, 2010 President Obama announced plans to open up huge swaths of the Atlantic, Gulf, and Alaskan coasts for offshore drilling exploration. For more than twenty years, these areas had been off limits due to presidential and congressional moratoriums on offshore drilling. President Obama has since suspended offshore drilling authorizations in these areas while a report on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is generated, and his staff has indicated that this spill could cause President Obama to reverse course on offshore drilling.
On March 27, 2010, President Obama gave a press conference in which he extended to six months a moratorium on offshore drilling permits, and canceled some leases in the Arctic and off the coast of Virginia. Read Friends of the Earth's reaction here.
On May 12, 2010, Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman released the American Power Act, climate and energy legislation that they, with an assist from Senator Lindsey Graham, had been working on for months. Despite the disaster in the Gulf, this bill includes provisions for expanding offshore drilling and a raft of benefits for fossil fuels industries. Though many have used the disaster in the Gulf to round up support for this legislation, the call should be precisely the opposite. Any climate and energy bill that clings to a dirty and dangerous fossil fuel-based energy program is untenable; this spill should be a wakeup call to senators who may be asked to consider climate and energy legislation this year.
Several other pieces of legislation dealing with the oil spill and offshore drilling have been introduced in the wake of the disaster in the gulf. One such bill, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, introduced by Senator Robert Menendez, would raise the disaster liability cap for oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion. Congress should consider this bill swiftly, and should also act to do away with giveaways, like free oil leases, to a dirty and dangerous industry.
In response to the gulf disaster, President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have proposed splitting up the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the corrupt agency in charge of offshore drilling leases, safety, and drilling regulation. Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica, in testimony before Congress in 2007 about the reform of MMS, proposed removing MMS from under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior. Any reform short of that, including the proposals by President Obama and Secretary Salazar, comes up short.
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will have serious economic consequences, especially for tourism and fishing.
BP's plans to stop the flow of oil are the same as they were in 1979 -- as the industry came up with ways to drill farther and drill deeper, safety innovations were not emphasized, and development stagnated. Drilling a relief well would take several months, and it's feasible that it could be washing ashore throughout the summer (oil has already washed ashore from Louisiana to Florida). The oil spill will disrupt tourism. The oil in the water will discourage recreational boating, snorkeling and scuba diving, swimming, beaches, nature parks and preserves, and other resident and tourist attractions.
The presence of oil in the water will devastate oyster and shrimp fishing. Shrimp fishing in the gulf makes up 70 percent of the national shrimp catch. Louisiana officials opened shrimp fishing season early to try to minimize the economic impacts, but shrimp fishermen have already filed suit against BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and Cameron International Corp. for anticipated loss of revenue.
The environmental implications of the oil spill in the gulf are vast. The catastrophe has eclipsed the Exxon Valdez oil spill as the worst in U.S. history. With flow estimates between 20,000 and 60,000 barrels a day, the Gulf of Mexico spill could trump Exxon Valdez many times over. Animals and marine life can be poisoned by the oil through ingestion. Coming in contact with the oil can cause animals' skin to lose its waterproof, thermal and buoyant qualities. Contamination from oil can also disrupt their reproductive success and the food chain as a whole.
Moving Beyond Fossil Fuels
President Obama's plan to expand offshore drilling would account for only 200,000 barrels of oil per day, enough to make 3.9 million gallons of gasoline. Through smart policies and investment, we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and make offshore drilling unnecessary. The links to the right explore some options we have to move beyond fossil fuels.
Other Helpful Links and Resources
|Media Coverage |
"Oil spill surfaces in political campaign," The Hill May 6, 2010
"In oil spill, environmental groups see opportunity for changes," The Washington Post May 6, 2010
"How's that Drilly Stuff Working Out?" Mother Jones May 6, 2010
"Ads link Obama to 'Drill Baby Drill' Republicans" E&E Greenwire May 6, 2010 [subscription requred]
"Friends of the Earth: We have better energy choices," Enviroknow May 6 2010
"Did you chant 'Drill, Baby, Drill?'" Get Energy Smart Now May 5, 2010
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