By Jeremy Deaton, video by Bart Vandever
The 2010 BP oil spill dumped more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, where it killed billions of fish. Had things gone as planned, that oil would have fueled cars and trucks, worsening climate change, which is going to kill billions of fish — and that was the best-case scenario. In short, oil is bad for sea life.
A diver explores sea life on the Eureka oil rig off the coast of Long Beach, California. Blue Latitudes<p>Hazelwood and her business partner Amber Sparks, co-founded consulting firm <a href="http://www.rig2reefexploration.org/team" target="_blank">Blue Latitudes</a>. Together, they work with oil companies to preserve the reefs that form on decommissioned oil platforms, lopping off the top while letting the rest of the structure stay in place. This process can save oil firms millions by sparing them the cost of tearing down an old rig.</p><p>Naturally, not everyone is wild about leaving the skeletons of oil platforms to rust in the ocean. In 2010, California <a href="https://www.ioes.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/RC-Rigs-to-Reef-Law-Fall2010.pdf" target="_blank">passed a controversial law</a> that would allow oil firms to convert old rigs into artificial reefs. Critics say it lets companies off the hook for cleanup by making the state liable for the remains of decommissioned oil platforms.</p><p>"The oil companies walk away. The state has to deal with this structure in the ocean forever, dealing with any safety issues, any pollution issues, any maintenance issues," said Linda Krop, chief counsel with the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara, California.</p>
Divers explore sea life on the Eureka oil rig off the coast of Long Beach, California. Blue Latitudes<p>She said it's also unclear if the rigs-to-reef program has much value for sea creatures. If old oil platforms become hot spots for recreational fishing, that could leave reefs mostly barren of marine life.</p><p>"We don't know what benefit will arise from leaving a platform at sea. We want that studied. That's what the current law requires. But the proponents are trying to weaken that part of the law," she said.</p><p>Hazelwood and Sparks, for instance, have called for streamlining the rigs-to-reef program to make it easier for oil companies to convert old platforms into ocean habitats. They say that tearing down viable reefs just doesn't make sense.</p><p>"Most environmental groups, they want to go back to the way the world was 10,000 years ago. And who wouldn't? I mean, that would just be an unbelievable planet to live on," Hazelwood said. "But that's not necessarily the reality of our situation right now, so we advocate for finding that silver lining."</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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.
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By Donald Boesch
Ten years ago, on April 20, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 crew members and starting the largest ocean oil spill in history. Over the next three months, between 4 million and 5 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Safety improvements are threatened<p>The presidential commission recommended numerous reforms to reduce the risks and environmental damages from offshore oil and gas development. The industry developed <a href="https://www.noia.org/offshore-energy/safety/response-containment-systems/" target="_blank">systems to contain blowouts</a> in deep water and has deployed them worldwide. Improvements in operational safety were made within companies and <a href="https://www.centerforoffshoresafety.org/" target="_blank">across the industry</a>.</p><p>The Department of the Interior acted quickly to reorganize its units. It created a <a href="https://www.bsee.gov/who-we-are/about-us" target="_blank">Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement</a> to avoid conflicts of interests with its leasing, development and revenue collection responsibilities. After four years in development, the bureau issued <a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/04/29/2016-08921/oil-and-gas-and-sulfur-operations-in-the-outer-continental-shelf-blowout-preventer-systems-and-well" target="_blank">new well control rules</a> in 2016 governing drilling safety.</p><p>But despite progress on a number of fronts, Congress has not enacted legislation to improve safety or even raise energy companies' ridiculously low liability limits for oil spills – currently just <a href="https://www.boem.gov/newsroom/press-releases/boem-adjusts-limit-liability-oil-spills-offshore-facilities" target="_blank">US$134 million</a> for offshore facilities like the Deepwater Horizon. The Trump administration has <a href="https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/bsee-finalizes-improved-blowout-preventer-and-well-control-regulations" target="_blank">reversed or relaxed safety reforms</a>. It has loosened the safe pressure margins allowed in a well, dispensed with independent inspections of blowout protectors and removed requirements for continuous onshore monitoring of offshore drilling.</p>
Where contamination lingers<p>Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the deep Gulf of Mexico ecosystem was egregiously understudied in all respects, while a <a href="https://www.boem.gov/sites/default/files/oil-and-gas-energy-program/Leasing/Five-Year-Program/2019-2024/DPP/NP-Economic-Benefits.pdf" target="_blank">multi-billion-dollar industry</a> intruded into it. Now scientists know much more about what happens when large quantities of oil and gas are released in a seafloor blowout.</p><p>Scientists learned much about the effects of the spill through monitoring the blowout, assessing damages to natural resources and investigating the fate and effects of escaping oil. More has been spent on these studies and more results published than for any previous oil spill.</p><p>A substantial portion of oil released from the mile-deep well was entrained in a plume of droplets spreading out 3,000 feet below the Gulf's surface. Footprints of contamination and effects extended <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw8863" target="_blank">far beyond the area where oil slicks were observed</a>.</p>
NASA | Satellites View Growing Gulf Oil Spill<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e0ae67b051718ba3863e543b577e9716"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mCWW5xt3Hc8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Nearly all of the oil released has since degraded. Populations of most affected organisms have recovered. But contamination lingers in sediments in the deep Gulf, and in some marshes and beaches where oil came ashore. Populations of <a href="https://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/wp-content/uploads/Chapter-4_Injury_to_Natural_Resources_508.pdf" target="_blank">long-lived animals the oil killed </a> might not recover for decades. These include sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, seabirds and <a href="https://theconversation.com/deepwater-corals-thrive-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean-but-cant-escape-human-impacts-104211" target="_blank">deepwater corals</a>.</p><p>And yet, as scientists synthesize results from this <a href="https://gulfresearchinitiative.org/" target="_blank">10-year research initiative</a>, very little practical advice is emerging about what can be done to respond more effectively to future blowouts from ever-deeper drilling in the Gulf.</p><p>Surely, we can more rapidly contain blowouts. The effectiveness of injecting chemical dispersants into the plume gushing from the well <a href="https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-12963-7_29" target="_blank">remains in debate</a>. How much oil do dispersants keep from reaching the surface, where it threatens those working to stanch the blowout, as well as birds, sea turtles and coastal ecosystems? But the research has not revealed more effective approaches in controlling released oil.</p>
Safety first is the big lesson<p>As I see it, the essential lesson from Deepwater Horizon is that industry and government should be putting their greatest energies into preventing operational accidents, blowouts and releases. Yet the Trump administration emphasizes <a href="https://theconversation.com/trumps-offshore-oil-drilling-plans-ignore-the-lessons-of-bp-deepwater-horizon-89570" target="_blank">increasing production and reducing regulations</a>. This undermines safety improvements made over the past 10 years.</p><p>Furthermore, the price of crude oil – already low because of high fracked oil production in the U.S. – has <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-oil-shock-of-2020-appears-to-be-here-and-the-pain-could-be-wide-and-deep-133293" target="_blank">declined drastically</a> since the beginning of 2020. Saudi and Russian oil had already glutted the market when the coronavirus pandemic reduced oil consumption.</p>
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By Julia Conley
Ten years after BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster sent hundreds of millions of gallons of oil across the Gulf of Mexico, researchers say the reach of the damage was far more significant than previously thought.
With Nation Transfixed by Impeachment, Trump Admin Quietly Serves Offshore Drilling Companies a 'Sweetheart Giveaway'
By Andrea Germanos
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was condemned Monday for a proposed policy shift on offshore drilling panned as a "sweetheart giveaway" for a former client.
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By Ann Scarborough Bull and Milton Love
Offshore oil and gas drilling has been a contentious issue in California for 50 years, ever since a rig ruptured and spilled 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil off Santa Barbara in 1969. Today it's spurring a new debate: whether to completely dismantle 27 oil and gas platforms scattered along the southern California coast as they end their working lives, or convert the underwater sections into permanent artificial reefs for marine life.
A marine biologist surveys fishes living at Platform A, Santa Barbara Channel, Calif.
Desmond Ho, CC BY-ND
Platform Holly in California's Santa Barbara Channel is one of the rigs scheduled for near-term decommissioning.
State Lands Commission via AP
By Hallie Templeton
By Alison Chase
On Monday Governor Cuomo signed into law a ban on oil and gas exploration and development offshore New York. Tanya Khotin
Governor Cuomo, singer Billy Joel and County Executive Steve Bollone participated in Monday's bill signing.
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The Trump administration will shelve its plans to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic following a recent court decision blocking drilling off the Alaskan coast, Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt said Thursday.
'This Is a Big Deal': Warren Vows to Ban New Leases for Fossil Fuel Drilling Offshore and on Public Lands
By Jessica Corbett
Environmental activists and advocacy groups praised Sen. Elizabeth Warren Monday after she promised that if she is elected president in 2020, she will ban new fossil fuel extraction leases for federally controlled lands and waters.
A federal judge in Alaska ruled on Friday that President Donald Trump "exceeded the president's authority" when he signed an executive order to allow offshore oil drilling in around 125 million acres of the Arctic Ocean, CNN reported.
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason's decision restores a ban on drilling in 98 percent of the U.S.-controlled Arctic Ocean, according to Earthjustice, which sued to stop Trump's order on behalf of several environmental groups and Alaska Native communities.
The ruling "shows that the president cannot just trample on the constitution to do the bidding of his cronies in the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our oceans, wildlife and climate," Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.
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Underwater Mudslides Are the Biggest Threat to Offshore Drilling, and Energy Companies Aren’t Ready for Them
By Ian MacDonald
Like generals planning for the last war, oil company managers and government inspectors tend to believe that because they survived the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, they are ready for all contingencies. Today they are expanding drilling into deeper and deeper waters, and the Trump administration is opening more offshore areas to production.
In fact, however, the worst-case scenario for an oil spill catastrophe is not losing control of a single well, as occurred in the BP disaster. Much more damage would be done if one or more of the thousand or so production platforms that now blanket the Gulf of Mexico were destroyed without warning by a deep-sea mudslide.