10 Years After BP's Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster Remains
By Andrea Germanos
Nearly 10 years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe began in the Gulf of Mexico, a leading ocean conservation group warned Tuesday that the threat of another similar disaster looms large and that the fossil fuel industry and U.S. government have learned practically nothing from the world's worst ever such disaster.
Oceana's new publication—titled "Hindsight 2020: Lessons We Cannot Ignore from the BP Disaster"—provides a broad look at what led up to the "preventable tragedy," the ongoing ecological and economic consequences of the disaster, and how the spill failed to act as a wake-up call on the inherent dangers of offshore drilling.
"Offshore drilling is still as dirty and dangerous as it was 10 years ago," said Diane Hoskins, Oceana campaign director. "If anything, another disaster is more likely today as the oil industry drills deeper and farther offshore. Instead of learning lessons from the BP disaster, President Trump is proposing to radically expand offshore drilling, while dismantling the few protections put in place as a result of the catastrophic blowout."
By pulling together information from a number of sources—including government documents, scientific studies, and interviews with Gulf Coast residents and policy experts—the report conveys a chilling reality: It's not a question of another offshore oil spill happening, but simply when.
"What we found was disturbing," says the report.
#BREAKING: New Oceana report examines BP #DeepwaterHorizon disaster’s cause and impacts 10 years later. 200+ millio… https://t.co/5wDEBaDWWy— Oceana (@Oceana)1586868997.0
While the date of the disaster—April 20, 2010—is well in the rear view mirror, the consequences are not.
"Nobody was ready for this scale of pollution," Nova Southeastern University Professor Tracey Sutton told Oceana. "As far as we know, the actual impact of the spill is not over yet."
Among the impacts that are known are that as many as 800,000 birds died in the midst of and following the disaster. The oil gushing from the ocean floor also devastated bottlenose dolphins—over 75% of all dolphin pregnancies failed in the oiled area. The spill also ravaged frontline communities.
"They failed our people," Clarice Friloux, who worked as outreach coordinator for the United Houma Nation during the spill recovery, told Oceana. "At one point, I remember thinking, 'Wow, this could kill off a whole generation of Native Americans living off the coast of Louisiana.'"
Contributing to the threat of another Deepwater Horizon-like spill is that the fossil fuel industry has pushed for riskier drilling—further out and in deeper waters. Yet safety measures matching those riskier moves have not been rolled out.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has done nothing to dampen the industry's appetite for more drilling.
Instead of strengthening safety regulations, the industry and the Trump administration are dismantling the few protections put in place after the BP catastrophe. Without effective oversight and a more robust safety culture, another disaster at the level of Deepwater Horizon may be just as likely today as it was 10 years ago.
The report also points to the weak approach taken by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)—a panel tasked with oversight of offshore drilling safety and was created in the year after Deepwater Horizon.
"The only significant thing that happened was that BSEE did issue a regulation around blowout preventer devices," Cyn Sarthou, executive director of the New Orleans-based environmental policy organization Healthy Gulf, says in the report. "Under the new administration, they have rolled that back. Even that one regulation, which was very little ... has now been rolled back."
Simply put, the report states, "A decade later, the safety culture has not improved, and oversight of the industry remains deficient."
Oceana's report also points to Trump's move to greatly expand offshore drilling which further paved the path for another disaster. To prevent a similar tragedy, the new report outlines a number of recommendations and called on Congress and the White House to:
- Halt all efforts to expand offshore drilling to new areas;
- Direct BSEE to seek transformative changes to the industry's safety culture and reverse efforts to weaken safety regulations;
- Direct BOEM to deny all pending geological and geophysical seismic permits for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean; and
- Enact a moratorium on expanded offshore drilling. Congress should incentivize investments in clean, renewable energy.
"When they drill, they spill," said Hoskins. "The BP disaster devastated the Gulf, and we cannot afford to repeat it. Protecting our environment has never been more important than it is today."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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