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Deep Water Horizon: One year later

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Today is Earth Day, and this past Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the last day or so, I’ve been reading a lot about the aftermath of the spill, especially as we approach (now bypass) the one year mark of what has been called the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

“Human Cost”, a guerilla art performance took place at Tate Britain. Image credit: Jeff Blackler/Rex Features

WAToday out of Australia featured a number of personal stories of some of those directly affected by the spill. Others, like The Guardian, have covered the memorial trip of the families of the eleven men who lost their lives on the rig, and some of the vigils and quiet protests of the disaster.

What is more sobering is the difficulty families and communities are having getting payment from the $20-billion compensation fund BP set up last year. To add insult to injury, BP made headlines yesterday with their lawsuit against the owners of the Deep Water Horizon rig and makers of the device that failed to stop last year’s spill. It’s disappointing to see after all the dramatics, furthered negligence, and finger-pointing the world witnessed last year – one year later, nothing has changed for the company once touted for their commitment to social responsibility.

GOOD recently posted the anniversary numbers of what has changed (or not changed) since the Deep Water Horizon disaster. I’ve included the numbers here. I thought they offered tremendous insight into the current state of affairs.

Number of workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon ultra-deepwater, dynamically positioned, semi-submersible offshore oil drilling rig owned by Transocean during the explosion on April 20, 2010: 11

Official estimate of volume of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico: 4.9 billion barrels

Volume of chemical dispersants sprayed into the Gulf: 1.07 million gallons

Percent of Gulf residents and clean-up workers that were exposed to oil or dispersant who experienced an “abnormal increase” in symptoms such as cough, eye irritation, headache, and sinus irritation, according to a Louisiana Bucket Brigade survey: 72 percent

Miles of shoreline that remain “heavily or moderately” oiled, according to NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco: 66

Number of dead dolphins that have washed ashore in the Gulf during this calving season: More than 150

Number of oil spill-related bills that were introduced to the 111th Congress, which : 101

Number of oil spill-related bills that were enacted into law: 0

Cash paid out of BP’s $20 billion oil spill compensation fund to date: $3.8 billion

Number of recipients—people and businesses—of compensation to date: 180,000

Number of claims filed: 857,000

Percentage of Americans who favor more offshore drilling, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted this month: 66 percent (PDF)

Number of inspectors responsible for the more than 3,500 drilling rigs and pumping platforms in the Gulf: 60

Increase in number of these offshore rig inspectors since the Deepwater Horizon explosion: 4

Percentage that domestic offshore oil production has decreased from 2010, largely due to the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep offshore drilling: 13 percent

Percentage that overall domestic oil production has decreased from January 2010 through January 2011 (the latest month for which numbers are available): 0

Percent of offshore acres already under lease by oil companies that are inactive, not yet producting, nor subject to any further permitting or approval: 70 percent

Barrels of oil untapped by oil companies sitting on these unused leases: 11 billion

Length of BP’s “A Year of Change” video, featuring Chief Executive Bob Dudley discussing what it has done to remedy the spill’s damage and improve its safety practices: 20 minutes

Pages in the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling’s final report to the President: 306 (not including end notes)

Recommendations in the Commission’s report that have been adopted by Congress: 0

What’s incredibly disappointing about all of this is that despite the oil spill and talk of changes necessary to prevent a disaster like this in the future, very little has actually changed. None of the recommendations from the Commission organized to report on the oil spill have been adopted, none of the 101 oil-spill related bills that were introduced to Congress have been accepted, inspectors are still in desperately low numbers, and domestic oil production since the spill hasn’t been affected.

Overall, not a pretty picture. All in the face of an increasing push by oil companies to increase activity in the Arctic, and with them are growing concerns of a risk of an oil spill in our Arctic waters. An oil spill in the Arctic would have devastating effects that far outweigh the disaster we’ve already seen in the Gulf. If it happened – and conservationists believe it’s only a matter of time – an oil spill up there would be nearly impossible to clean up with the much more extreme elements, and chances of oil getting trapped under the ice.

I don’t know about you, but all this feels off to me. Expansion, exploration, growth… greed. All things our societies take for granted as the norm, only at an incredibly high cost. What happened to stewardship, responsibility, and social good? Where is the balance?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Human Cost – image used above – guerilla live art performance by Liberate Tate at Tate Britain, London, on anniversary of Spill to highlight links between the arts and BP (BP has a sponsorship deal with Tate). Many key british arts institutions have sponsorship deals with BP and Shell – a way that the oil industry gains a ‘social license to operate’.

    April 22, 2011
  2. vivve #

    Hi Darren, thanks for sharing your insights, video, and the links to Liberate Tate. I would never have guessed that BP actually sponsored this performance.

    April 25, 2011

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