Monday marks the ten-year anniversary of the deadly BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster; several environmental groups hosted conference calls last week to use the anniversary as a call to permanently close the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling. And to look back at the lessons of that blowout a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf.
WMNF asked the participants whether there should be limitations on the use of dispersants on oil spills in the future. Dr. Sarah Giltz is a marine scientist with Oceana.
“First I’d say that the best thing we could do would be to prevent another disaster like the Deepwater Horizon so that we never even have to even consider using dispersants. We know that dispersants are toxic. That in some cases when you mix dispersants with oil that’s more toxic to animals than oil by itself. We’ve also seen that the huge amount — the unprecedented amount — of dispersants that were used during the Deepwater Horizon, particularly those in the deep sea use, may not have been as effective as was hoped. And in some cases, this dispersant use could have made things worse.”
Another participant, Julie Hauserman with EarthJustice, said nobody knows what chemicals were in the dispersant that was used during the BP oil disaster.
“I’d also like to add that EarthJustice had to sue to even find out what was in Corexit [dispersant]. If you’re going to have massive spraying over a public water body, that’s completely ridiculous.”
California member of Congress Alan Lowenthal is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. He slammed the Trump administration’s rollback of safety and environmental regulations in another call organized by EarthJustice.
Republican Congress member Francis Rooney is from the Fort Myers and Naples area. Rooney’s legislative director Corey Schrodt said Rooney has looked at the science and the economy and the future of the oil industry and came to the conclusion that offshore drilling should not be expanded. Rooney is a cosponsor of a bill to introduce a tax on carbon. He also called attention to a Bahamian drilling operation 40 miles off Florida’s east coast.
Tampa-area member of Congress, Democrat Kathy Castor, called it the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States.
The president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, Robin Miller, pointed out the economic damage of offshore oil drilling on businesses and residents of the Gulf Coast.
Besides the environmental and economic toll of the BP disaster, there was a major human cost. Eleven workers died ten years ago. Leo Linder is a retired rig worker on the Deepwater Horizon.
“I was a mud engineer on the [Deepwater] Horizon. I was on it that night. I wish I could spend my time unpacking my heart in telling you about these 11 men. But even now 10 years later the grief fills me up. It’s just too fresh. I think it overwhelms me.
“But what I can say is what happened on Horizon, it didn’t start on the rig. It started in the corporate boardroom. It ended on the rig.
“It started from an overriding priority to make as much profit as possible. This is not a priority unique to BP, but in the case of the Horizon it proved to be fatal. It’s a pretty general problem.
“As a matter of fact 10 years ago this month, the same drive for profit resulted in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 miners in West Virginia. There is this general push for deregulation. And this is also a push for profit. It undercuts safety, though.
“The new well control rule they were talking about that’s been promulgated in the Gulf talks about creating savings for oil producers, and creating additional capital investment, increasing production. It reads like an investment banker wrote it, and not a regulator.
“And in the 10 years since the [Deepwater] Horizon we can see the same things happening in a number of industries. In the collapse of the Hard Rock Cafe [hotel in South Florida] and a petrochemical industry that creates the highest rate of cancer in the U.S. In [the River Parishes, Louisiana] called cancer alley. And nationally in a pharmaceutical industry that hawked opioids to the American public like they were conducting a new opium war against us.
“In a recent study in a medical journal called The Lancet it found that nearly 70,000 lives would be saved every year by taking the profit motive out of health insurance. Seventy-thousand people a year. I mean, if 11 people are worthy of remembrance and memorial, and they really are most worthy, what are 70,000 worth?
“I hope the people can begin to realise these accidents or tragedies aren’t just fate or the result of occasional negligence. They happen because of the relentless drive to make profit. And the way we handle our economy, profit seems to be our only policy. I hope, if not today then someday, that ordinary Americans will look to themselves and start to judge whether or not this is really what they value also.”
Christian Wagley is the Florida director for Healthy Gulf. He says that many of the safety and environmental regulations that went into place after the BP disaster have been reversed.
“There was a commission led by former Governor and Senator Bob Graham. They came up with a series of recommendations and a number of those were implemented under the Obama administration. And some new rules regulating production work on rigs and also blow-out preventers, which was the piece that failed in the BP disaster. We all know now that many of the key parts of those rules that were implemented several years ago have now been rolled back and I think the final rollback on that happened a little over a year ago. I think it was in June of 2019 or so. So that’s the tragedy in this. We did learn some lessons from it. We put rules in place to prevent it from happening again. And now many of those important rules relating to the blow-out preventers, third party testing of equipment on the rigs and other safety measures have been withdrawn by the Trump administration.”
A National Institutes of Health study found that the use of dispersants during the BP oil disaster harmed human health.
A moratorium on oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico expires in 2022. The U.S. House of Representatives voted for a permanent ban on drilling there, but the Senate has not passed it.