The Beacon

Blog Tags: Offshore Drilling

BP Pays Out – But What’s the Real Price of the Spill?

 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.


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Video: Andy Sharpless at TEDxOilSpill

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!


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Less Than a Year After the Spill, Oil Leases Scheduled

oiled bird

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.


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What if an Oil Spill Happened in the Arctic?

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon gusher was finally sealed, oil companies are claiming they can drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, an even more fragile and forbidding environment than the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, our government seems to be suffering from amnesia, too.

This month, Shell Oil received a conditional approval from the federal government to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The company claims that it can end a gushing spill like the Deepwater Horizon in just 43 days and clean up 90 percent of oil lost.

These claims aren’t based in historic experience and have little scientific evidence to back them up. Crews were only able to recover 10 percent of the oil escaping the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, and only 8 percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.

The most recent oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea was in 2000 and was described as a “failure.” Mechanical systems like skimmers and booms in calm but icy conditions simply didn’t work. The technology has not improved since then. Just watch this video of a failed cleanup test:


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Friday Infographic: Offshore Drilling

This is the third  in a series of ocean infographics by artist Don Foley. These infographics also appear in Oceana board member Ted Danson’s book, “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”  

Last year’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was not an isolated event. The exploding rig was especially tragic, but the truth is that the oil industry produces pollution every day, as today’s infographic illustrates:

Click to enlarge. [Infographic by Don Foley]

The small spills associated with oil extraction, transportation, and consumption add up to about 195 million gallons every year. That’s as much as one Deepwater Horizon gusher.

As we saw in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, extracting oil from the seafloor is dangerous business. Everyday drilling and extracting result in chronic leaks that add up to 11 million gallons of oil pollution annually.

Transporting oil is also a major source of pollution. Sometimes ships intentionally discharge what’s known as oily ballast water—the thousands of gallons of dirty water used to keep a giant transport ship stable. Otherwise, despite their best attempts, moving oil around inevitably results in spills to the tune of 44 million gallons a year.


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New Google Tool Reveals Oil Spill Amnesia

deepwater horizon explosion

Just one year ago in early June 2010, tar balls began washing up on the beaches of Pensacola, Florida, and oily waves lapped the shores of the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore. Graphic images of oil- covered cormorants and pelicans emerged in the news.

Over one-third of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico were closed to fishing and BP released the first video clips of a hole the size of a dinner plate gushing crude oil into the deep dark waters of the Gulf. But one year later a different disaster of great magnitude has occurred -- the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history has largely been forgotten. 

A phenomenon deemed “oil spill amnesia” has been uncovered after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to greatly expand offshore oil drilling in federal waters with less safety provisions than before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This made it obvious that many of our politicians had forgotten about the risks of offshore drilling, but how much the general public and media has forgotten about the Gulf oil spill was speculative, until now.

Google has come out with a new tool that is perfect for data nerds called Google Correlate. It can relate two different search terms or phrases and show their correlation in terms of internet search activity. Based on search activity Google has been able to accurately predict rates of flu, and these tools may serve great importance in our society.

It has also revealed that people have indeed largely forgotten about the impacts of the BP oil spill.


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Maria D’Orsogna

maria d'orsogna

This is the fifth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Maria D’Orsogna is a physics and math professor in California, but in her spare time, she has been fighting offshore drilling in Italy, where she spent 10 years of her childhood. She has even earned the nickname “Erin Brockovich of Abruzzo” for her efforts to rally the public and officials to end drilling in the region.

Abruzzo, which may be familiar to you from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine (a bottle of which I have sitting at home), is a primarily agricultural region east of Rome. The Adriatic Sea is nearby, along with a marine reserve (Torre del Cerrano), a Coastal National Park (Parco Nazionale della Costa Teatina) and several regional reserves, such as Punta Aderci, where dolphins are often spotted.

Maria’s activism started in 2007, when she discovered that the oil company ENI planned to drill in the coastal town of Ortona, Abruzzo. The company would uproot century-old wineries to build a refinery and a 7km pipeline to the sea.

Maria reports that there was very little information about the industry’s drilling plans, nor analysis on what it could mean for the region’s agriculture or fishing industries. At the time, Italy had no laws regulating offshore drilling.

While fighting the onshore refinery, which was ultimately defeated, Maria said via e-mail, “the attack on the sea began. I had to get involved.”


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Guest Post: The Rush to Drill in the Caribbean

Image courtesy of Jaime Matera

Editor’s note: It’s not just the U.S. government that’s pushing to drill in our oceans. Guest blogger Jaime Matera is a marine anthropologist who is working to stop potential drilling off the coast of his home country, Colombia.

In 2010 the Colombian government opened up pristine coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea to oil exploration. If allowed to continue, two petroleum companies, Repsol-YPF and Ecopetrol, would be drilling for oil on the second largest reef system in the Caribbean.  

The Colombian archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina lies on the southwestern Caribbean Sea, just 125 miles off the coast of Central America. It is home to an exceptional marine ecosystem and a native island population with strong connections to the resources. 

The reef system surrounding the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina is the second largest in the Caribbean. It covers approximately 255 km² and includes extensive sea grass beds, mangrove forests, and patchy reefs systems. In addition, a number of uninhabited cays and atolls are found in surrounding waters.


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Join Us for Hands Across the Sand on June 25!

Remember Hands Across the Sand, last year’s explosively popular international demonstration against offshore drilling and for clean energy? The second annual event will take place on June 25 at noon local time all over the world, and Oceana is playing a central role.

Last year’s HANDS brought more than 100,000 people to beaches and parks to join hands for fifteen minutes in a display of solidarity.

Instead of passing laws limiting offshore drilling or raising the liability cap in the event of another major spill, Congress is going in the opposite direction and voting for more offshore drilling, including a major expansion to the East Coast.

Bills being considered now would actually make drilling even less safe than it was before the spill. This fact, along with increasing popular demand for renewable energies, promises a large showing of ocean-lovers to stand up for what’s right.

We’re drawing a metaphorical line in the sand against offshore drilling, will you join us? Check out the details or sign up to organize an event in your community at www.handsacrossthesand.com.

Matt Dundas is a campaign manager at Oceana; he serves on the National Advisory Council for HANDS and attended the 2010 event outside the White House.


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The Real Reason for High Gas Prices

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana; this post also appeared on Politico.

Why do we take terrible risks to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere along our coasts?

Most people would say we drill to protect ourselves from big fluctuations in the price of a gallon of gas that are caused by the major upheavals in the Middle East. Look at this chart (data from the Energy Information Administration):

Their argument is that the more oil we can produce domestically, the lower the price we’ll pay at the pump. It’s not that they like the sight of oil wells off our beaches. The main reason they are doing so is they think it will save them money – especially as gas prices approached $4 a gallon recently.

This idea is not only intuitively appealing, it is repeatedly, and unambiguously, promoted by important government officials from both parties. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) defended new legislation that would expand offshore oil drilling, saying “this bill would do more to lower gas prices at the pump than any other plan.” Sarah Palin criticized President Barack Obama, “His war on domestic oil and gas exploration and production has caused us pain at the pump.”


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