The Gulf of Mexico Revisited | The Jackal

3 Mar 2011

The Gulf of Mexico Revisited

Audio Version.

In just over a month we will mark the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A good time to catch up on what has been going on...

The scope of the problem has grown since the Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded on April 20 2010, killing 11 people, to later sink into the Gulf of Mexico. Although most of the unsightly crude oil has been dissipated, there are now numerous reports on physical ailments by Gulf inhabitants, causing many to question what the long term effects of the USA’s largest oil spill in history will ultimately become. There are many scientist and Doctors who do not agree with the notion that when oil breaks down, it is less toxic, especially considering what we know about the dispersants used. The legacy of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig disaster could be far more catastrophic than first anticipated.

With most of the oil on Florida beaches pulverized into microscopic particles and mixed with dispersants, it posses a deadly unseen menace that has caused people to have irritation in the airways, headaches, internal bleeding, anaphylactic shock, rashes and other symptoms directly related to the spill and the chemicals used to “clean” it up. And that’s just a few of the short-term effects. Here's a more in-depth article concerning the problems caused which is well worth a read if you have the time: Permanent Biological Contamination of the Gulf.

The first estimates by BP and U.S. government reported that the underwater well was pumping approximately 1,000 barrels a day (about 42,000 gallons) of crude oil into the surrounding waters. SkyTruth, a non-profit organization that uses remote sensing and digital mapping technologies, challenged that figure. US Officials, BP and NOAA then estimated that 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) a day was being spilled.

On June 15, 2010, the U.S. government revised its official estimate upward, saying that an estimated 60,000 barrels of crude oil was leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day and in a closed-door briefing for members of Congress, a senior BP executive conceded that the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico could conceivably spill as much as 60,000 barrels a day. However Federal officials then raised the possibility of the leak being more than 100,000 barrels a day.

From the 20th April 2010 to the 15th July 2010 conservative estimates put the total amount of crude oil spilt from the Deepwater Horizon disaster at 560,000 to 585,000 Tonnes or 4,100,000 to 4,300,000 Barrels. Operations to skim oil recovered about 827,251 barrels of oily liquid. In addition, 411 controlled burns have removed an estimated 265,450 barrels of oil from the sea's surface. However this has posed another environmental concern and caused dirty and acid rain to fall over much of the Gulf Coast states.

Although BP put the oil spill cost at $32.2bn on the 26 July, actual spending on cleanup operations and associated measures is around the $9.5 US billion mark to date. BP has really only scratched the surface of the actual cost of this disaster. Many financial claims that BP believes are not legitimate, from some of the worst affected Gulf coast residence, which have had their lives ruined and businesses destroyed have not received a cent.

Now we have a US government in denial granting the first deepwater drilling permit since the Gulf spill and to BP no less. If you have an understanding of the history behind the disaster, you would know this is a complete travesty of justice. In April 2010 US investigators said decisions made to cut costs contributed to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Meanwhile the thousands of temporary wellheads that are still leaking have had little attention. How much trust can we invest in people who have allowed such a horrendous event to occur? In my opinion we should learn our lessons, and learn them well, or we will be doomed to repeat history. In this case, we simply cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes again.

The Gulf of Mexico residents, who have stayed in the affected area, will endure the cost and afflictions caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, for many years to come. It has recently been announced that 55,000 Gulf Coasters who have been in direct exposure to the oil and dispersants, will be interview by a division of the US National Institutes of Health, to determine how badly affected they are. At the same time, the National Toxicology Program is testing the chemical makeup of crude and Corexit used to “clean” up oil spills. The exact amount of Corexit used to disperse the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill is unknown.

With oil still being sighted and hitting the coastline, there is clearly a complete failure of an industry that has had little regulation and has put the almighty dollar above all else. Oil companies have proven they have little concern for the environmental implications of their polluting operations and have shown complete disregard for any proper measures to regulate the sector.

Bob Graham, former Florida governor and a co-chairman of the commission investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster, said the findings showed the blow out was avoidable. Don Boesch, a member of the investigating team, told the BBC that they had identified a whole sequence of poor decisions with unfortunate consequences when put together. In a months-long investigation, the panel found that mistakes and failures to appreciate risk, compromised safeguards until the blow out was inevitable and uncontrollable. BP's fundamental mistake, the panel wrote, was failing to exercise proper caution over the job of sealing the well with cement and that the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies.

The findings came in the final report of the National Commission on BP’s Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which President Barack Obama convened in May to investigate the root causes of the spill and recommend changes to industry and government policy. But not much has changed there or here in New Zealand since, with only one inspector to oversee safety on numerous wells throughout our waters, it is no wonder we have had our share of under reported oil spills in New Zealand.

On the 15th July 2010, the BBC revealed that 53-year old BP chief executive Tony Hayward would receive a year's salary plus benefits, together worth more than £1m, when he stepped down. He will also be entitled to draw an annual pension of £600,000 once he reaches the age of 55, which is around three months away. May he rot in hell forevermore.