Sunday, October 14, 2012

BP Amnesia: Life and Death After the Spill

As weathered oil and dead marine life continue to wash up on Gulf shores, environmentalists worry that America has failed to heed the lessons of the summer of 2010, when an ocean of oil gushed from a broken pipe, and mesmerized a nation.

On a hot summer day in June, representatives from some of the world's richest oil companies gathered at the Superdome in New Orleans, where Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared, "[The] Gulf of Mexico is back in business," as he kicked off a federal auction of 39 million acres of offshore drilling leases.

The auction was the Obama administration's second big sale of Gulf of Mexico leases since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster claimed the lives of 11 workers and released more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. BP bid nearly $240 million that day, just two years after the catastrophic blowout, and gobbled up 43 drilling leases in the same central region of the Gulf where the company struggled for months to stop the oil gushing from the now-infamous Macondo well.

Six weeks after the auction, Hurricane Isaac spewed tar balls and large oil slicks along the Gulf shore, from Alabama to Louisiana. Lab tests confirmed the storm had churned up remnants from the massive BP spill, a grim reminder that oil continues to impact ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tar balls are not the only reminder washing up on shore. Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) linked unusually high numbers of dead and beached dolphins to the oil spill. But don't expect to hear much about dead dolphins or tall balls on the campaign trail. Environmentalists say our leaders are suffering from oil spill "amnesia."

"The federal government is failing to learn from one of the most environmentally and economically destructive incidents in US history," said David Pettit, a senior attorney for the NRDC. "Fresh oil from the Macondo well continues to wash ashore ... and the government is being negligent by issuing leases to drill now and drill deeper without ensuring all necessary precautions."

Pettit told Truthout that, despite reforms to deep-water drilling regulation made since the BP spill, regulators continue to issue drilling permits without the detailed analysis necessary to understand the potential environmental impacts on already damaged ecosystems. On his blog, Pettit explains that the design flaw in Cameron-style blowout preventers like those that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster "still exists today."

And what about responding to another spill? The Macondo well spewed hundreds of millions of gallons of oil and natural gas into the Gulf while BP struggled to permanently seal it; but since the disaster, regulators and the industry have only performed one successful deep-water field test, at only one specific depth, of new well-cap technology in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, drilling and leasing continues.

Obama, Romney and "Drill Baby Drill"

The White House recently announced its next big lease auction, scheduled for March 2013, of 38 million acres in the central Gulf of Mexico off the coasts of Louisiana and Alabama. The sales are part of President Obama's "all of the above" energy security plan, which includes a dozen lease sales in oil-rich areas of the Gulf of Mexico and three sales off the Alaskan coast within the next five years.

The administration estimates the March 2013 sale alone could lead to the production of 1 billion barrels of oil. The auction held this past June netted $1.7 billion in revenue.

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