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Blog Tags: Gulf Of Mexico Oil Spill

BP Spill Residue Found in Minnesota Pelican Eggs

pelicans

An American white pelican sits on her nest in Minnesota. [Image via Minnesota Public Radio]

The impacts of the Deepwater Horizon are being felt in -- you guessed it -- Minnesota.

White pelicans that winter in the Gulf of Mexico and have lived in an oiled Gulf have migrated to far away places such as Minnesota to lay eggs, and the contaminants inside them have traveled as well.

Preliminary testing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows that petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested and nearly 80 percent of the eggs contained the chemical dispersant used during the spill, called COREXIT.

The contamination of white pelican eggs is a bad sign for the developing embryos and potentially their populations. The researchers will be continuing to monitor impacts on the population for years to come, and the true impacts may not be realized for decades.

Mark Clark, a researcher helping with these studies, says, “Any contaminant that makes its way into the bird could be bad, but it could be especially bad if it gets into the egg because that's where the developing embryo and chick starts. And when things go wrong at that stage, there's usually no recovery."

The immediate loss of pelicans and other birds that were covered in oil during the spill was amazingly disheartening and graphic. But these types of sub-lethal impacts show how the next generation may be affected.

While these effects are less noticeable, they are even more concerning for the future of the population. Nearly half of all the bird species that live in the United States spend at least part of the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, and the health of the Gulf is globally significant for birds.

After the Exxon Valdez spill, more than 88% of the birds that were found dead were outside of Prince William Sound, the area immediately affected by the spill, and the number of dead birds found was only a fraction of the total killed by the spill.

The combination of those direct losses, poor reproductive success and changes in the habitat, has prevented some species from recovering, even 20 years later. Although we don’t yet know the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill, these contaminants in eggs serve as a warning sign of things to come.

We need to make sure that BP and the other responsible parties are held accountable for the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill that have likely impacted hundreds to thousands of species.

Even more importantly we need to recognize that these contaminated eggs, and the ongoing damages to wildlife, are part of the overall problem with offshore drilling and spilling. We have much better options for energy, such as offshore wind, and we should use them.


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Two Years Later: Deformed Seafood and Sick Dolphins

A soapfish in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

Today marks the second anniversary of the Gulf oil spill. Oil has long stopped flowing from the leaking rig, but that doesn’t mean the disaster is over. Local fishermen have been making some off-putting discoveries: nets full of eyeless shrimp, clusters of clawless crabs, and more.

Oil and the dispersants used to break it up are making it into the food chain, which could account for some of these deformities. Al Jazeera has been interviewing people involved in the Gulf seafood business and published the disturbing results of those interviews today.

One fisher told them she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within …”

Another said that shrimp numbers have dropped dramatically, and that they see shrimp with tumors on their heads every day. Louisiana fishers have pulled up entire nets of eyeless shrimp. Some crabs have soft or misshapen shells. Fish and shrimp have tumors and lesions.

Such deformities happened even before the spill, but the high number of diseased and deformed animals being found after the spill shock both fishers and scientists. In some areas after the spill, a startling 50% of fish have these lesions.

One scientist said he thought the issues could be traced to chronic exposure to PAHs [a compound found in crude oil] released in the process of weathering oil.

And it’s not just fish that have been affected by oil. Gulf dolphins have been found sick and dead, and the numbers of dolphin carcasses found is likely only a fraction of the total amount of dolphins that were killed by the oil.

The sad state of sea life in the Gulf proves that even long after oil is gone from sight, it is still dangerous. It will take decades for the Gulf to recover from this accident. In the meantime, we here at Oceana are working hard to push for safer energy sources and keep oil drills out of our waters.

Please visit our Stop the Drill page to sign a petition for clean energy and learn more about the dangers of offshore drilling.


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Government Fails on Offshore Drilling Report Card

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.


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Deep-sea Coral Sickness Linked to Gulf Oil Spill

Deep-sea corals. © NOAA

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.


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Sick Dolphins in the Gulf

dolphin

© Oceana/Jesus Renedo

Sad news from the Gulf of Mexico: At least 32 dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, one of the hardest hit spots by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have been given physicals and are reported as severely ill according to NOAA officials.

The dolphins are reporting a range of symptoms from being underweight, anemic, low blood sugar and liver and lung disease. One of the studied dolphins has already been found dead.

There has been a large surge in dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf of Mexico since the oil spill, especially newborn and young dolphins. In 2011 there were 159 strandings just in Louisiana, almost 8 times the historical average in previous years.

The numbers of dolphin carcasses found is likely only a fraction of the total amount of dolphins that were killed by the oil, and the true number is likely 50 times the total of 600 strandings since the spill, so more than 30,000 dolphin mortalities may have been caused by the spill already.

The spike in young dolphin deaths since the spill is extremely concerning, and showed biologists that the health of dolphin populations in the Northern Gulf had been compromised and many miscarriages may have occurred following contact with oil pollution. 


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What BP Owes Americans

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

There has been a lot of news lately about whether BP will settle all of the legal claims against it stemming from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago, or whether the company will end up in court. As is typical of most things surrounding the oil spill issue, much of the information that has come out in recent weeks has done little more than muddy the waters.

First of all, despite a settlement announced late last Friday, most of the legal claims against BP have not been settled. The recent $7.8 billion settlement only represents the private injury claims brought by local residents, fishermen, tourism companies, and the like whose businesses and livelihoods were devastated by the oil spill. That's important, but it's not even close to half of the story. The remaining claims -- what BP owes the American people -- could amount to many times that amount.

BP has yet to settle with the Federal Government, which represents "we the people," and it hasn't settled with the affected states. The Feds have already brought one suit seeking civil penalties and natural resource damages from BP, and could bring more in the future. Estimates of the total amount that BP owes us just for those federal claims have varied from $20 to $60 billion.

These numbers might seem large, but the truth is they don't come close to the total amount that BP could -- and should -- be required to pay. Our nation's environmental laws allow the Justice Department to seek damages and penalties against BP that could be as high as $90 billion. But recent discussions in the press of a possible future settlement between BP and the Federal Government have focused on much lower amounts in the $20-25 billion range. Compared to what BP could be asked to pay -- and what we have the right to demand -- that's not a deal the American people should be happy about.

To help add some clarity to these numbers, here are a few of the key components that will be decided either through a trial, or by an agreement between BP and the Justice Department:


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Japan Plans to Build Floating Offshore Wind Farm

offshore wind turbine

© Oceana

The Fukushima nuclear disaster, sparked by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last March, has led the Japanese government to embrace a safer energy source: offshore wind.

Japan seeks to expand its wind energy capacity and compete with European markets in the brand new field of floating offshore wind technology. The country plans to build a pilot floating wind farm with six 2-Megawatt turbines, and then scale up to 80 floating turbines off the Fukushima coast by 2020.

While offshore wind has begun to be used in Europe, to date, it has been dependent on shallow enough water to stabilize the foundation. There is currently an international race to develop floating offshore wind farms, which are the next big step in offshore wind energy as they will allow for offshore wind development even in deeper water.

Floating offshore wind designs are being field tested in the North Sea and Portugal. (Check out this video describing how one type of floating wind turbine is designed and deployed.)  Floating wind farms consist of large floating structures that support a spinning turbine, the base of which can be tethered to the ocean floor.

It uses a ballast system to transfer water between pillars to keep the platform stable even in very high seas. The floating farms are assembled on land and then can be towed out to sea to be placed in deeper water locations that have stronger and steadier winds. The ability to place offshore wind farms into deeper waters along with their lack of concrete bases and increased mobility reduces their environmental impact while increasing their production of clean energy.

Japan has responded to the Fukushima disaster in the way that the U.S. should respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster – by aggressively pursuing safer, more environmentally friendly energy sources that will allow us to phase out the older and more dangerous ones.


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Another Report Declares Deepwater Drilling Unsafe

oil rigs

Oil rigs on the horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

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.


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Offshore Drilling Plan Offers Mixed Tidings

oil rig in gulf of mexico

An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

This afternoon, the Department of the Interior released its plan for oil drilling for the next five years, and it’s a mixed bag.

Bad news first: Today’s decision opens the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico to drilling, despite the facts that the Gulf is still experiencing the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and that safety regulations have improved little since this disaster.

The decision also leaves the Arctic open to drilling. Fortunately, there’s a small bright spot here: The administration has announced that lease sales in the Arctic will be continued only after more research and monitoring has been conducted. Today’s decision also promises to respect special areas within the Arctic and acknowledges the recent report that found gaps in Arctic ecosystem science.

The best news, however, is that the administration will not permit offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, or the parts of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico currently under a drilling moratorium.

“The administration’s new five-year plan is good news for Atlantic coastal states, especially Virginia and Florida.  However, the Arctic and the Gulf are still in harm’s way,” said Jackie Savitz, Oceana senior campaign director.

“As we watch the BP oil continue to foul the Gulf of Mexico, it’s crystal clear that fundamental, industry-wide safety and response failures must be addressed before moving forward with such an aggressive program in the Gulf.  The economy and health of the Gulf may not survive the next disaster,” Savitz added.


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New Report: Offshore Drilling Still Not Safe

The Deepwater Horizon site at night. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

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.

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