Worst environmental disaster in U.S. history?
Everyone knows the answer- The failure of the British Petroleum “Deepwater Horizon” oil rig.
It exploded April 20th, killing 11 workers, and triggering a massive oil spill a mile beneath the surface in the Gulf of Mexico. Click here to see streaming video of spill.
The BP oil spill is large, concentrated and toxic.
This is a disaster that has long been in the making. It was sparked by too little regulatory oversight, political leadership or corporate responsibility. It has human consequences. “There are people who are getting desperate,” the Rev. Theodore Turner, at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Boothville, LA told NBC News. “And there are more getting anxious as we get further into the shrimping season and there is less chance they will recover,” said Turner. Fishermen make up about a third of his congregation.
The disaster is still spreading like some toxic genie that’s escaped its bottle. The spill is killing wildlife and habitat as it disrupts the region’s economy and the lives of thousands of residents. According to NBC News, the Gulf Coast is one of America’s richest ecosystems and a vital breeding ground for a $6.5 billion seafood industry. According to Reuters, Louisiana’s $2.4 billion seafood industry supplies up to 40 percent of U.S. seafood supply and employs over 27,000 people.
The uncapped mess also asks:
- how long will it take for the region to recover from the unbridled pollution?
- what regulatory controls should prevent events like this from happening?
- where is our political leadership?
- what impact could this have on America’s energy policy?
Attempts to cap the well with a containment dome and top-kill procedure have failed. Unless another fix works, it may take two months or more for a relief well to be drilled to stop the oil gushing from the Gulf’s floor. That could mean two, three, or four times more oil than has already poured into the Gulf, polluting its salt and freshwater marshes, beaches, rivers and bays.
The oil is gushing from a hole British Petroleum, Halliburton and Transocean drilled with assurances something like this couldn’t happen. Those assurances were backed by our own federal government.
Play the NASA video below to see the time-lapse spread of the leaking oil.
Here are the facts of the moment:
- The Gulf spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989 as the worst U.S. oil spill.
- An estimated 504,000 to 798,000 gallons of oil are spilling each day from the gushing leak.
- British Petroleum estimates oil-spill recovery operations have cost $990 million to date.
- A CBS MarketWatch report estimates BP has lost $45 billion in value since the oil spill began.
The Miami Herald reports: “The damage to the shorelines of Gulf states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida is literally only the surface of the problem: The damage to the sea floor could be extensive, and oil could also devastate marine life between the Gulf floor and its surface, as well as in coastal areas far from the leaking wellhead.”
Even though BP estimates it will take two months to drill two relief wells, history suggests it could take more time than that. In 1979, the Ixtoc I well in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche blew out. It took almost 10 months before it could be contained with relief wells.
Who’s to blame? This is the perfect storm where fingers point in seemingly every direction while the oil spill spreads in every direction.
The Times-Picayune pointed out in an editorial that although rig owner Transocean and contractor Halliburton were also responsible for the disaster, BP ultimately has to shoulder the blame.
“But they were working under the direction of BP. And BP executives overruled the contractors in at least one critical decision, involving when to drain the mud fluid needed to keep the well from blowing up. During Wednesday’s hearing of the Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service investigation of the explosion, the rig’s chief mechanic testified that he was in a planning meeting 11 hours before the explosion at which the BP “company man” overruled the drillers.”
According to a New York Times editorial, there are also signs that the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service routinely ignored basic environmental laws and its own rules to fast track drilling permits.
The U.S. government claims to be calling the shots in response to the spill. Its credibility is undermined by the fact that it doesn’t have the equipment or technology to stop the leak.
If we can put men on the moon, shouldn’t the federal government be able to better respond to oil mishaps like these, especially since our country relies so heavily on oil for our energy needs? Why shouldn’t oil companies drilling in U.S. waters pay a portion of their royalty fees to fund equipment and staffing for an independent federal response team that can respond to disasters like the Deepwater Horizon blowout?
Of course that’s a small part of responding to disasters like these. These are times when Americans expect political leaders to lead or get out of the way.
Why has there been little action and fewer results from our political leaders concerning the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history? It as only two months ago that Barack Obama took the Republican slogan “drill, baby, drill” as his own, opening over 500,000 square miles of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas exploitation for the first time in over 20 years. At the time, Obama said the administration would take steps to protect the environment.
Instead of working together on solutions, why do some politicians prefer calculating which president or member of Congress will lose the most from a disaster that has no party affiliation?
Political leadership from both parties should rise to the top faster than the crude oil blasting from the Gulf of Mexico’s floor. They really should. So far though, our political leadership has been as murky as the globs of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.