On April 20th, 2010, a fire on board the Deepwater Horizon that was the result of an oil well explosion off the Gulf Coast lead to the sinking of the rig, and the deaths of 11 crew members. The rig sank on April 22nd, and the resulting oil leak began to increase by the hour. By April 30th the oil spill area was estimated at over 3800 square miles. It was by that time a true disaster, the 2nd major disaster to hit the state of Louisiana since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina turned the Bayou upside down. The Gulf Coast oil spill quickly became a blame game in the media, with many pundits calling it ‘Obama’s Katrina’, a reference to the Bush administration’s handling of the relief efforts following the hurricane. So what all happened in the oil spill, and was it handled properly?
Shortly after the explosion and the discovery of the oil spill, British Petroleum went in to action to assess the situation and to prevent the spill. They deployed engineers and remote operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) to inspect the well and see what was really going on. Their main effort at first was to contain the oil leak, but on April 24th and 25th high winds on the sea began spreading the oil more rapidly (CBS News, April 30th). According to CBS News as of May 20th, BP said it was collecting over 200,000 gallons of oil a day from the spill. Over 6.3 million gallons of oil have been recovered, with over 17,000 people working on it (CBS News, May 20th). BP has spent over $500 million in the relief effort for the oil spill. The process has been slow, but BP has done a good job of at least working the situation and adapting to the environment.
The Obama administration for their part have made various statements about the need to stop the oil spill. Obama has ordered commissions and inquiries in to the cause and response of the oil spill, but the overall response of the government to the disaster has been underwhelming. The biggest gripe may be the inability or unwillingness for either BP or the government to accurately deduce how much oil was being spilled in the days following the oil spill. According to the New York Times writer Justin Gillis, many in the scientific community have been infuriated at the government’s failure to publicize results of water tests. The fact that we are entering month 2 of this oil spill and there haven’t been any real tests to determine the cause and scope of the Gulf Coast oil spill is a major cause for concern. While the government has been active in testing water near the coastlines, the same can’t be said for the deeper waters. As a result, it doesn’t seem like we will know any time soon just how extensive this oil spill really is. It took Obama 10 days to visit the Gulf Coast. That’s not the response time people wanted from the government in the wake of recent controversies involving response to disasters, manmade or natural.
But once this oil spill is cleaned, how far reaching will the indirect damage be? According to CBS News more than 46,000 miles of fishing areas have been shut down, which is no doubt damaging to that industry. As of May 19th, according to ABC, oil was starting to hit the shorelines, which is sure to start panic among environmentalists in Louisiana and everywhere else. The tourism, fishing, shrimping, and other similar industries stand to lose billions as a result of the oil spill. Many legal battles also figure to transpire, including those by the families of the victims of the explosion, who seem to have been forgotten amongst the media coverage.
BP has acted accountable for the spill, if not as efficient as they should have acted. Though they did not comment on a 60 Minutes report that indicated they were aware of a well problem as many as 4 weeks in advance of the oil spill. If this is the case, both they and the government have a lot of answering to do. Whatever the case of the truth or not, there needs to be better guidelines for offshore drilling. With the ways of the oil world, offshore drilling needs to continue. But we can’t afford another disaster of this magnitude. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already pulled the plug on California projects, saying at a press conference “I see on TV the birds drenched in oil, the fishermen out of work, the massive oil spill and oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem” (Associated Press, May 6th). This isn’t the response people can have. Emotional reactions cannot dictate our decisions to drill offshore or not. Instead, both the government and the oil companies, and anyone else involved, need to join forces and develop better, stricter, guidelines. They need to test everything, inspect wells frequently, train drillers better, and do whatever else it takes to ensure a preventable disaster such as the Gulf Coast oil spill never happens again. The focus should no longer be on blame, but on making sure offshore drilling is safer and more responsible.