Oil & Gas Spills, Accidents Continue to Plague Gulf

Remember the Gulf this Earth MonthThis week marks the 2 year memorial of the BP drilling disaster, and the Gulf of Mexico can not seem to catch a break. The 2nd anniversary of the disaster is occuring as high gas prices encourage politicians and oil industry backers to demand more domestic oil drilling under the disproven idea that more drilling will decrease the price at the pump. Meanwhile, the oil industry proves that they can’t be trusted to operate safely in our nation’s energy sacrifice zone (aka the Gulf of Mexico).This month alone Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico have experienced a natural gas pipeline explode, Shell has reported a new offshore oil spill that stretches for at least 10 miles, a couple thousand gallons of heavy fuel oil was dumped into the Mississippi River, and new reports from our friends with the Gulf Monitoring Consortium have re-confirmed the Taylor oil rig leak that has been polluting the Gulf since 2004!!The pipeline explosion reportedly sent a flame 800 feet into the air in the marshland of Terrebonne Parish (county). That height would be over 100 feet taller than the tallest building in Louisiana. The Shell building (that’s right, Shell oil) in downtown NOLA is just under 700 feet tall. As the spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said, “the flames were pretty impressive.”Shell dutifully reported the oil sheen, but claimed it wasn’t theirs… of course. It WAS located between two of their rigs, but hey, there are hundreds of reported oil spills offshore every year, and fewer than one in one hundred ever have a fine associated with them, so really, who cares whose spill it was, right?With these examples of how dirty, dangerous and deadly drilling truly is, it seems natural to ask, how much has changed, two years after the BP drilling disaster began? The preeminent effort to figure out what went wrong two years ago, why it happened, and what can be done to keep it from happening again was the National Oil Spill Commission, which issued their recommendations about 15 months ago. They’ve just released a report card on implementation of their ideas, and it’s clear that grade inflation isn’t just for the ivy leagues anymore. They gave industry a C+, the Obama Administration a B, and Congress a D. We’re in agreement on Congress, but the other two grades are far too generous. The former Commissioners give kudos to the industry for setting up two deep well containment system initatives (hint, it’s basically the same system that BP ultimately used to staunch their oil eruption), and for setting up the Center for Offshore Safety. Of course the industry should use the same approach the ultimately worked for BP! It will take a while to mobilize a system like that though, so instead of the oil flowing for 86 days as we watch “top hat” and “junk shot” fail, we’ll see the oil flow for 21 or 30 days, depending on how long it takes to get to the source of the oil. Hardly a massive improvement. Also the Center for Offshore Safety has been set up and is being run out of the offices of the American Petroleum Industry, the lobbying shop for the offshore oil industry. Not the place to turn to for a vigorous, honest assesment of the state of offshore drilling.One other element of the Oil Spill Commission recommendations has the potential for that vigorous, honest and transparent assesment of the industry, and their spill response capactiy, creating a Gulf Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. Similar to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council authorized in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill, an RCAC gives local citizens a seat at the table, and a chance to give input on how the industry is moving forward in the region, and ensuring community accountability and an adequately resourced watch dog. The head of the Prince William Sound RCAC likens their work to having your date’s mom in the backseat. You’re not going to get away with much, and you’re certainly going to follow the traffic laws. As the BP disaster unfolded, and their response plan was shown to be largely a work of fiction about the mythical gulf walrus, and non-existant fire boom to corral and burn oil, the need for an independent body to fact-check the plans and capacities of the oil industry became clear. Two years after the disaster, Gulf communities aren’t feeling that much safer as spills and explosions continue and the push for increased offshore drilling continues to ratchet up.Aaron Viles is GRN’s Deputy Director. You can follow him on twitter here.

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