Ten Years Later, Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Still A Threat To Gulf Natural Resources

Numerous organizations (Oceana, National Wildlife Federation or NWF, and Skytruth among others) have looked back at the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on the Gulf of Mexico in the ten years since the tragedy — and sadly, the impacts of the worst oil spill in history are still being felt — by Gulf residents, dolphins, turtles, whales, and birds among others — and the risks of another catastrophic spill are still high.  Undersea mudslides, dysfunctional safety oversight, and this administration’s aggressive leasing in the Gulf are of concern to environmental groups, scientists, and legal experts.

Why This Matters:  I (Monica) was involved from day one of the response to the spill and through the early restoration work for two years after it ended, and we tried mightily to minimize the damage and begin restoration immediately.  The concerns being expressed now are even more disheartening given the current oil glut, which makes the rush to drill more and in riskier places even more tragic. The bright spot is that there is money for restoring the Gulf thanks to the legal settlement with BP but it won’t be enough to make it all right.  And it can’t fix the problems of lax government safety oversight and mismanagement.

The Gulf Has Not Recovered

NWF highlights the plight of a few species impacted.  Dolphins are still struggling — with lung disease, are underweight and anemic and even dolphins born after the spill are negatively impacted.  Twenty percent of the sea turtle population was killed by the spill, and 1 million offshore birds were lost and the populations have not recovered.   And, according to Ian MacDonald of Florida State, at the time of the spill there were 1500 sperm whales in the Gulf and now there are only about 750 left.  These sentinel species are still under stress.  What is being attempted now is, according to David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation is “the largest restoration attempt ever in the world, with billions invested or committed to projects to help restore the Gulf and its ecosystem, and another $12 billion to be spent through the year 2032.”  He told The Washington Post “’It’s an opportunity we cannot afford to squander,’ he said, adding that the projects create jobs.”

What Lessons Have Been Learned

Mark Davis, a professor at Tulane argued during Zoom panel organized by SkyTruth that everything “that happened in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could have been forseen…until we get policies in line with the risks we are running [in the Gulf] we are going to be incredibly vulnerable.”   And Oceana in its report entitled “Hindsight 2020” wrote, “the industry’s safety culture has not improved, and government oversight remains deficient. If anything, another disaster is more likely because the industry is drilling deeper and farther offshore, which increases the likelihood of spills and makes responding to them more difficult.” As E&E News described the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, that was created to correct the prior conflicts of interest in the oil lease process, as “fractious, demoralized and riddled with staff distrust toward its leadership, according to multiple accounts from current and former employees.”

H/T to the NOAA Team from the Obama Administration for their hard work in the days, weeks, months and years after the spill right up through January 19, 2017.  It was great to see them all — albeit by Zoom.

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