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10 Years After BP's Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster Remains

Oceans
10 Years After BP's Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster Remains
A boat works to collect oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico on April 28, 2010 near New Orleans, Louisiana. Chris Graythen / Getty Images

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.

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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Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.

"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."

Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.

It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.

Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.

Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.

One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.

The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.

They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.

"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."

That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.

And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.

"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."

Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.

"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.

The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.

"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."


Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

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The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

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To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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