On April 20, 2010, a deep water oil rig under contract to BP exploded and later capsized after several hours of burning about 50 miles south of Venice, Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people who worked on the rig died. While the cause for the explosion is yet unknown, what is known is that the current size of the resulting oil slick area is about 100 miles wide and 45 miles long. Additionally, governmental officials have increased the estimate of the daily amount of oil bubbling up from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico from 1,000 barrels to 5,000 barrels. Edges of the oil slick have reached the Louisiana coastline. Massive amounts of oil are expected to damage the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and create significant threats for coastal areas of all states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Such damage was foreseeable, but protecting human rights by ensuring safety has not been a priority for the U.S. Government or BP.
The loss of lives and the looming coastal damage caused by the BP oil drilling disaster demonstrate that our government, which issues permits and leases areas for offshore oil drilling, and oil companies that go to deeper and deeper depths in search for oil are not prepared to handle the unique complications of a deep water oil disaster. The Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), based in New Orleans, points to the findings of a joint study by the U.S. government and the oil industry in 2000 that show the difficulties of controlling the damage from offshore deepwater oil drilling. One of the findings from the study is that the burning of the oil would be largely ineffective due to the mix of water
Role of Government?
For several days, we have witnessed governmental agencies and departments acting as public relations spokespersons for BP. Consequently, BP’s lower estimation of the amount of the oil was echoed for several days by governmental officials. During yesterday’s White House press conference on the disaster, US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry embarrassed herself by calling BP “a partner.” The Secretary of the US Department of the Interior is working out of the BP Command Center. BP’s focus on limiting its liability and fostering positive public relations should not be the focus of our government. (Read AEHR report What the Oil & Chemical Industries Fear, a detailed account of a media training workshop attended by the public relations staff of BP and several other industrial companies.)
The decisions by our government to license and permit deep water oil exploration and drilling without adequate safety precautions puts Gulf Coast communities and their fragile ecosystem in harm’s way. These actions exacerbate the failure of government to ensure a just and equitable recovery of people and communities harmed by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Gustav, and Ike, which displaced tens of thousands of people now caught in governmental red tape. And the failure of recovery comes after decades of governmental neglect of coastal erosion along the Gulf of Mexico and inaction on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the climate change effects of intensive hurricanes and sea level rise.
What AEHR Is Doing
AEHR is assisting in efforts to independently assess the damage of the BP Oil Drilling Disaster, and determine clean up requirements.
AEHR is urging President Obama to take the following action to protect Gulf Coast communities now:
- require BP to pay on an expedited basis for the cost of clean up and the damages suffered by fishing and shrimping communities;
- provide the resources necessary for state and federal wildlife and fisheries agencies to effectively monitor the impacts of the BP oil drilling disaster on marine wildlife;
- provide the resources necessary for state and federal environmental agencies to conduct air monitoring of the burning of BP’s oil drilling disaster and assess the public health impacts of toxic emissions from the burning;
- investigate the cause of the BP oil drilling disaster;
- make the information and data collected from the environmental monitoring and the investigation available to the public;
- prepare an independent determination of the effectiveness of the disaster preparedness equipment and plans at all existing deep water oil exploration and drilling sites
- suspend all pending and proposed offshore oil leases;
- reform oil drilling leases and permitting with legal standards for disaster prevention, mitigation, and response for deep water oil exploration and drilling operations;
- ensure the recovery of people and communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms that are in keeping with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement;
- expedite adequate funds and resources to restore the erosion of coastal areas bordering the Gulf of Mexico; and
- agree to an international limit on carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change to levels that are at or below 350 parts per million with mechanisms for enforcement and accountability.