The Beacon

Four Years Later, BP Oil Spill Still Rearing its Oily Head in Florida

(Photo: NOAA)

The Gulf coast of Florida is renowned for its soft white beaches, balmy weather and calm, clear waters. It’s also infamous for being a mecca of debris from oil-rig related tragedies, which, until recently, were thought to have mostly finished their attack on Gulf coast beaches. But even after four years, trash from the BP oil disaster is still washing ashore and devastating coastal environments and communities.

Last month, a group from the Florida State Department of Environmental Protection discovered an 81 square-foot tar mat cruising the shallows off Pensacola Beach. That's 1,250 pounds of oily garbage  that slithered across almost 200 miles of seabed, damaging environments and amassing sand and marine fragments.

This is only a tiny fraction of the 200 million gallons of oil that spewed into the ocean during the 2010 oil spill, devastating ecosystems throughout the Gulf and blackening the many coastal communities that rely on these waters for their livelihood. Thousands of people suffered job losses at the expense of this avoidable tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of animals perished, including marine mammals, fish stocks, seabirds and sea turtles. Today, scientists can still see effects of the oil spill on marine ecosystems and seemingly healthy marine life, such as heart defects in tuna and amberjack. And what’s more, Florida recently filed a lawsuit with BP over damages to the state’s natural resources. Along with a past economic lawsuit and $26 billion in Gulf restoration, BP certainly has had to own up for the environment al and human health disaster and will continue to do so: the claim holds BP responsible and liable for past and future costs concerning resources and cleanup. Perfect timing for that tar mat to set an example.

Luckily, some areas are recovering, but this does not mean the disaster is over. Policymakers, especially many powerful DC officials, are inclined to believe the Gulf has fully recovered and things are more or less back to “normal.” But with tar mats still surfacing, we are awaiting the day the Gulf shines to its past glory. Beaches are no longer black, but the less-obvious environmental complications are still present. And with the BP disaster still rearing its oily head, the nation could soon be faced with similar disasters because of the recent controversial decision to move forward with dangerous seismic airgun blasting, which locates oil and gas deposits off the Atlantic coast.

One catastrophe of the BP disaster scale is one too many, but we have already had 12 other lesser-known spills nationwide. Oil and gas drilling is moving forward in the Atlantic, and the nation could easily have another explosion on its hand within the coming years, with more beaches, more marine life and more hardworking Americans at peril. The government plans to blast an area twice the size of California along the Eastern seaboard, putting thousands of miles of coastline in jeopardy. Jeopardy that is, frankly, extremely unnecessary. The answer is simple: don’t drill. Invest in cleaner, greener energy solutions like offshore wind  (which has the potential to provide three times as much power as oil and gas, and provide countless job opportunities). Officials need to consider the BP explosion not merely as an unfortunate accident, but as a reminder and a lesson learned.

Fortunately, Florida officials were able to clear most of the tar mat, but experts estimate that countless pounds of hazardous material are still poisoning the Gulf. For every tar mat we find on our coasts, there are countless others floating unnoticed in the ocean to this day. Four years clearly has not been long enough to correct one mistake, and yet the Obama administration continues the permitting process to open up the Atlantic Ocean. Take action and oppose drilling in the Atlantic by signing our petition.

Learn more about the recent seismic testing report here.


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