Ten years ago, the United States suffered the worst oil spill in its history. BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people, and pumping more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico’s waters for 87 days. Oceana’s new report, “Hindsight 2020: Lessons We Cannot Ignore from the BP Disaster,” found that many impacts from the disaster are still felt today.
Oil killed tens of thousands of birds, sea turtles, dolphins, and fish. It devastated the economy both immediately and long-term, halting tourism and forcing layoffs. Many fisheries closed and the seafood industry lost an estimated $1 billion. Some fishermen lost their income and very way of life. Already vulnerable communities, like the United Houma Nation, were some of the hardest hit.
“Most of our coastal communities are fishermen’s towns, where they crab, do oysters, fish. And that’s what they do for a living,” said Clarice Friloux, former BP Outreach Coordinator for the United Houma Nation, a Native American community comprised of about 17,000 tribal members along the southeastern Louisiana coast. “For them, not being able to go to work as a commercial fisherman, how are they going to eat? How are they going to pay their bills?”
While the Deepwater Horizon explosion resulted in the U.S.’s largest oil spill, the industry’s abysmal record continues. From 2017 to 2018, there were over 7,000 oil spills in federal waters, an average of nearly two per day. Offshore drilling remains very dangerous, and accidents can happen during every phase of the process.
At the time, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe opened many Americans’ eyes, including those whose economic well-being and livelihoods rely heavily on fishing and tourism. As headlines faded and time passed, Oceana has fought to ensure that the memory does not fade. As a result, our campaigners have inspired a formidable grassroots movement along each coast with support from hundreds of municipalities and tens of thousands of businesses and fishing families. It is one of a few remaining bipartisan issues. All governors, Republicans and Democrats, along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts now agree that expanded offshore drilling is not needed or warranted.
Since the disaster, Oceana has secured victories to prevent offshore drilling in U.S. waters and around the world. In 2019, New York, Oregon, and South Carolina were among the latest states to enact laws against offshore drilling. During the Obama Administration, Oceana and our allies were successful in stopping proposals to allow drilling and seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, off the southeastern coast. And Belize banned offshore drilling in its waters after campaigning by Oceana, protecting the world’s second largest barrier reef.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster made the danger and devastating effects of offshore drilling painfully clear. Despite progress made in the prior administration, President Trump has proposed to open nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling, while also dismantling protections that were put in place as a response to the disaster. These actions directly threaten coastal economies and the health of our oceans.
Internationally, challenges also remain. Oceana’s office in Brazil has supported their country’s recovery from an oil spill in the summer of 2019. Oceana helped with clean-up efforts along the coast and educated citizens and policymakers about the dangerous effects of oil spills. They are also working to prevent future offshore drilling in the Abrolhos region, an area rich with abundant marine life, important mangrove ecosystems, and endangered species. And, earlier this year we learned the Bahamian government was poised to allow exploratory offshore drilling, only 150 miles away from Florida, just months after Hurricane Dorian caused a major spill. It’s clear some parties have more learning to do and our continued advocacy is critical.
Still, our grassroots support is stronger than ever. We must remain steadfast in our campaign to protect our oceans from dangerous offshore drilling and to keep our coastal communities thriving. If we do not all learn from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we’re bound to repeat it.