Learning From Catastrophe Will Help Us Build A Healthier Planet And A Stronger Economy
Today marks the five year anniversary of the BP oil spill, the worst oil disaster in American history. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that BP operated in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 people. For the next 87 days, oil spewed into the Gulf, releasing at least 3 million barrels of oil into the water. The immediate and ongoing damage to human health, the environment, and the economy are impossible to truly quantify and the Gulf is still feeling the impacts today:
- Impacts to human health: Preliminary results from a recent long-term study found that a lot of anger, anxiety, and depression was reported by Gulf residents related to income insecurity. According to the research, the spill destroyed livelihoods for fishermen and others who depended on a healthy Gulf. While it’s difficult to truly quantify the spill’s overall impacts on public health, the initial research by the National Institute of Health also found that oil-cleanup workers felt more physical and mental symptoms in the aftermath than non-cleanup workers did.
- Tar continuing to wash ashore: Even though it has been five years since the spill, tar balls and mats continue to spread throughout the Gulf and wash up along its coastline. BP denied that these were still harmful to the environment, but experts say that they are made of the same toxic oil compounds that threaten ecosystems.
- Oil on the sea floor: Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the oil spill is that a significant portion of the oil currently has sunk to the ocean floor where it has smothered seabed ecosystems, meaning it will likely never be cleaned up. According to the Smithsonian Institute, potentially 20 percent of the 3 million barrels of oil is down there and researchers have found that this oil is present in the food chain, which could seriously impact commercial fisheries and marine life throughout the Gulf.
- More threatened species: Along the same lines, the oil still present in the Gulf continues to hurt a large number of native species. The National Wildlife Federation found that at least 20 animal species continue to be adversely impacted by the spill, including dolphins, pelicans, sea turtles, and fish like red snapper and tuna.
BP, which has tried and failed to challenge the 2012 settlement in the past, claims that it has paid a total of $28 billion on the spill, a figure that includes response, cleanup, claims payments and some restoration work. There is still a lot of work to be done in the Gulf, and recently a federal District Court judge found that BP is potentially liable for an additional fine, capped at $13.7 billion, which the oil giant is in the process of fighting.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite the dangers of drilling deep underwater, offshore drilling has only increased – there are 37 percent more wells since the spill and the average well is 40 percent deeper now than five years ago. While Big Polluters and their allies push for increased oil and gas exploration, drilling has devastating health, environmental and ecological consequences. Rather than doubling down on dirty energy, we should do what is necessary and popular by investing in the renewable energies that will help us transition to an economy that’s better for our health and our planet.
The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.