Blog Tags: Deepwater Horizon
Friday will mark two years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst accidental oil spill in history. One would hope that an accident like this would lead to monumental changes in safety regulations, but sadly that is not the case.
Today, we released a report card that grades the failures of the United States government and the oil and gas industry after the oil spill.
“Politics continues to triumph over common sense. It’s outrageous that so little progress has been made to make offshore drilling safer,” said Jacqueline Savitz, our senior campaign director. “It appears that the government has done little more than require actions that were already being done voluntarily, even on the ill-fated rig – it’s as if they are letting the industry regulate itself.”
We gave the grades based on how well the government and industry followed recommendations they were given after the spill. They received “F” grades in most of the categories, but in three instances the government did make small but ultimately unsatisfactory efforts, earning “D” grades.
Overall, “both industry and government get ‘F’s’,” Savitz said. “Without stronger regulations, and better inspection and enforcement, oil companies will continue to put profits over safety and there will be more problems. It’s not a matter of whether there will be another oil spill, but when.”
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to stop new offshore drilling, please visit www.stopthedrill.org.
Even more sad news from the Gulf of Mexico, but this time it runs a mile deep. A new study confirms that the oil that likely caused deepwater coral sickness indeed came from the largest accidental oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon.
Back in June 2010, deep-sea coral communities showed signs of severe stress and tissue damage after being covered with heavy mucous and brown flocculent material which was believed to be caused by the spill. This type of ill-health in deep sea corals had never before been documented during deep sea research.
The lead author, Helen White from Haverford College, stated, “We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted from a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth makes it very different than a tanker running aground and spilling its contents.”
Deepwater corals can live hundreds of years, and they serve as hot beds for marine biodiversity. The deepwater coral communities are habitat for crabs, shrimp, brittlestars and commercially important fish species like red snapper and grouper. These corals can take a long time to recover from damage and in comparison this would be similar to clear cutting patches of ancient redwood forests in California.
These results are startling in that they show for the first time how harmful deepwater oil drilling is to distant ecosystems even though they are separated from humans by more than 4,000 feet of water. These ancient deepwater corals were likely already living long before the first oil rigs entered the Gulf of Mexico. If we protect them from more drilling and more spilling they could thrive in a world that moves away from oil to smarter and safer sources of energy, like offshore wind.
Oceana is doing its part by filing a legal challenge against new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. We do not believe that the government has adequately studied the potential impacts of new drilling or the true extent of the biological impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These include the deepwater corals and so many other species that live in the Gulf.
It is also clear that safety measures have not improved to an adequate level. We need your support to continue our efforts to stop offshore drilling and protect important deep sea habitats, dolphins and the thousands of species that are still struggling from oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Go to stopthedrill.org to get involved.
Gas has been leaking into the United Kingdom’s North Sea for three days, after an attempt to close an underwater oil well caused a blowout.
Oil drilling accidents happen more often than you might think. Smaller spills and leaks don’t usually make the news, although they can still affect the local environment. And this is why offshore drilling is so dangerous—it’s even harder to contain a leak when it’s underwater.
In this case, there is not much that can be done for the time being. The actual well is plugged, but the highly-pressurized gas (a light crude oil called condensate) is coming from a reservoir close to the surface. It’s possible the leak might close itself within a few days. But if it doesn’t, the only way to resolve it will be to drill a relief well, which will take six months. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was eventually resolved.
The comparisons don’t end there. Jake Molloy, regional organizer for RMT union, also compared the two accidents: “It’s unprecedented. High pressure gas flowing from a well with no means of preventing it. We are in the realm of the unknown, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon.”
This leak will not have the same scope of destruction as the Gulf leak, since the condensate is thin and will hopefully evaporate. But after two days, there was already a sheen of condensate two miles long in the North Sea. A vapor cloud is visible rising from the rig, and the area has been evacuated out of fear of an explosion.
Accidents occur everywhere we drill, and there is no way to safeguard the environment from the effects of oil. Shell is currently on its way to begin drilling in the Arctic, far from civilization. If a spill occurs there, the story could be even worse. Join us in calling on President Obama to protect the Arctic environment and all the animals that call it home.
Last week the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council released a report about offshore drilling safety, and I bet you can guess what it shows: Deepwater drilling isn’t safe.
The report echoes many conclusions from previous reports on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including Oceana’s report, "False Sense of Safety," and presents a solid set of recommendations that the government can use to make offshore drilling safer.
A few of the report’s conclusions paint a particularly stark picture of the continued dangers of offshore drilling.
The report, titled "Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety," concludes as others have that blowout preventers, or BOPs – the last line of defense against blowouts and spills – are not designed to function correctly in deepwater drilling and so cannot be relied on. In the words of the report:
“the BOP system at the Macondo well [had] a number of deficiencies... that are indicative of deficiencies in the design process... [that] also may be present for BOP systems deployed for other deepwater drilling operations” (pg. 54).
But design is not their only problem; the report says testing is woefully inadequate as well. To fix these problems, the report calls for the redesign and improved testing of BOPs. In the meantime, deepwater drilling should be suspended, since BOPs cannot be relied upon for protection against spills.
Michael Craig is an Energy Analyst at Oceana.
It’s been just over a year and a half since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but the offshore drilling industry is already back to full steam ahead, with as many rigs drilling in deepwater in the Gulf as two years ago.
They say it’s safe. But is it?
The government and industry have pointed to new safety measures implemented by the former Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). But little analysis has been done assessing these new measures – until now.
Last week Oceana released a new analysis that examines how effective the new safety measures will be in preventing future spills and improving offshore safety. In doing so, we systemically look at what went wrong leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and conclude that the new safety measures can not guarantee against future spills, and furthermore likely would not have prevented the BP spill from occurring.
Overall, we find that the new safety measures are undermined by two factors: overarching problems in offshore regulation and flaws in the safety measures themselves.
Some of the overarching problems in the regulation of offshore drilling that the new safety measures do not address include:
- Perverse financial incentives encourage corner-cutting and saving time at the expense of safety.
- Blowout preventers, one of which memorably failed to stop the Deepwater Horizon blowout, have critical deficiencies that make it more likely they will not be able to prevent blowouts.
- The government’s inspection and oversight capabilities are woefully inadequate to ensure that companies follow the rules and operate in a safe manner.
- The offshore industry’s culture of prioritizing profits over safety has not substantively changed.
The first study showing the biological impacts to wildlife from last year’s Gulf oil spill has just been published in PNAS, and the news is not good for fish populations.
After being exposed to low levels of heavily weathered crude oil in marsh habitats, killifish, also called bull minnows, showed cellular changes in their livers which could impact reproduction and health. Killifish are an important part of the Gulf of Mexico food web, and impacts to their populations could have ecosystem-wide results.
"The message that seafood is safe to eat doesn't necessarily mean that the animals are out of the woods," said Andrew Whitehead, an assistant professor of biology at Louisiana State University and a lead researcher in the study.
These lesser-seen impacts to reproduction are predictive of more serious long-term threats to populations. In a way, these changes are even more tragic than the animals that washed up on the shore dead after the spill. The study found the same kind of cellular responses in killifish as were observed in herring, salmon and ducks that later had population crashes as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and some populations never recovered.
The fish showed changes even when the water was seemingly clean and when there were very low levels of oil present. The researchers note that even when oil is not visible on the surface, the toxic components of the oil can remain in the sediment and get stirred up by waves and storms.
"Where's the oil? It's in the sediment," Whitehead said.
He’s right. A couple of weeks ago Tropical Storm Lee unearthed miles of tar balls, tar mats and abandoned cleanup equipment left from last year's oil spill, forcing BP cleanup crews back to the beaches.
As the science of the spill is just beginning to unfold and BP continues to clean up oil on the beaches, Congress is pushing hard for more risky offshore drilling in the same affected ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico, and new pristine environments like the Arctic where there is no capability to clean up after a spill.
Help us in the fight to stop offshore drilling. Sign the petition to Stop the Drill today if you haven't already!
A new federal report into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has found that BP took multiple serious shortcuts in exploratory drilling and that the operation was behind schedule and over budget. This conclusion echoes the results of previous investigations, including the January report by national commission on the oil spill.
The report also reiterated concerns about the use of blowout preventers, which are meant to be a final defense against oil rig disasters. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the blowout preventer mechanism was weakened by a failure in the drill pipe, which connects the surface rig to the well. This pipe, which spanned 5,000 feet, possibly buckled because it was simply too heavy to support itself.
Oceana has released a response calling for an end to new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the new report.
"This report confirms that bad decisions and improper, risky actions were at the root of the accident," said senior campaign director Jackie Savitz. "All deepwater drilling activities would, by their nature, also have thousands of feet of drill pipe, and could be vulnerable to the same danger."
Other fatal shortcuts cited in the report include cement failure at the base of the well, last-minute changes in drilling plans, insufficient emergency planning, and numerous violations of federal regulations governing oil well management.
After the Gulf oil spill happened, people demanded numbers. They wanted to know animal mortality numbers and dollar signs to understand the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history.
The problem is that the extent of this spill was so huge and so many animals and people were affected that it’s hard to quantify. But some recent numbers help show how widespread the impacts have been.
So far BP has set aside $20 billion for spill impacts, and it has just been released that they paid out $5 billion of that amount in damages to over 200,000 people in the last year, with an additional $1.5 billion going to cleanup and restoration.
Many more people are claiming damages, with a total of close to 1 million claims being processed from people in all 50 states and 36 different nations, with thousands more claims coming in each week.
How could a spill in the Gulf possibly affect over a million people in such far reaching places? The answer is that the Gulf of Mexico isn’t just an oil and gas depot, it is used for many activities besides drilling that employ thousands of people in fishing and tourism related jobs. As a result, the economic impacts of the spill have been felt around the world.
At last year’s TEDxOilSpill conference in Washington, D.C., Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless tackled the 10 biggest myths he hears about offshore drilling. His presentation is especially poignant this week considering the government's decision on Friday to re-open the Western Gulf of Mexico for new oil and gas exploration for the first time since the spill.
Check it out and pass it on!
It hasn’t yet been one year since the worst accidental oil spill in history was finally stopped, but the Interior Department announced Friday that it will open more than 20 million acres of the Western Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas exploration and development.
Oceana’s senior campaign director Jackie Savitz’s responded to this outrageous news in the New York Times:
“Rushing this lease sale puts marine ecosystems at risk before the ink is even dry on the impacts of the BP spill,” said Jacqueline Savitz of the international conservation group Oceana. She added that the ocean energy bureau “appears to be caving to intense pressure from the oil industry to return to ‘business as usual,’ without regard for the extraordinary risks to already imperiled marine animals.”
Reports following the Deepwater Horizon spill have highlighted the impacts on already struggling species, such as endangered sea turtles and bluefin tuna. Many commercially important fish were spawning at the time of the spill, and studies to measure the impacts have not yet been completed. Until the status of those populations is clarified, it’s impossible to determine the impacts of this lease sale, a step required prior to the sale.
The Interior Department should not proceed with new lease sales until the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill are better understood, and until we improve our readiness to prevent and respond to major oil spills.