Political pundit Bill Maher said it best when he tweeted that “every asshole who ever chanted ‘drill, baby, drill’ should have to report to the Gulf coast for cleanup duty.”
On April 20, an oil rig 64 kilometers southeast of the Louisiana coast exploded, killing 11 workers and causing a major rupture in an important oil well. According to several sources, close to 400 million litres of crude oil has spewed into the water, causing one of the worst environmental disasters in history.
Almost two months later it is still there, like a black plague: a layer of sludge floating atop the usually blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Everything BP has tried to plug the leak has not worked. First, Halliburton was hired to build a dome that would cover the leak and funnel some of the oil into a tanker. But in the end, this method didn’t work.
BP then tried a technique they called “Top-Kill.” The idea was to pump drilling fluids into the opening that sits atop the wellhead, which would slow down the flow of oil, allowing them to seal the leak with cement. This operation cost BP millions of dollars and was a complete failure.
The latest method to control the spill is to build a massive 5,000-ft. long straw-like apparatus over the leak so the oil can be collected at the surface of the water. The downside is that even if this new technique works, it will temporarily increase the flow of oil coming through the leak by at least 20 per cent.
The long-term method to stop the leak is to drill relief wells to intersect the flow. There are currently two relief wells being drilled at a cost of $100 million each, but they are not likely to be completed before August. Until then, BP is scratching its head wondering what else to do.
So far, BP has spent nearly $1 billion trying to contain the spill and its effects, to no avail. Fisheries in the area have completely stopped production. Thousands of animals have died. Tourists along Florida’s Paradise Coast are as rare a sight as the fish in that area. The estimated total loss is said to be $5 billion and rising. Since the spill, unemployment in Louisiana has risen in a state that is still recovering from 2005’s hurricane Katrina.
According to a MSNBC survey conducted after this catastrophe, nearly two-thirds of Americans are still in favour of off-shore drilling.
If this has not convinced people, it’s hard to fathom what it will take for them to realize off-shore drilling should no longer be practiced. This disaster tremendously dwarfs the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska where 40.9 million litres of oil were spread over 28,000 square kilometers of ocean. Yet they continue to drill, and they continue to spill.
This disaster and its handling will be a test of Obama’s presidency. Polls show his approval ratings dropping daily, most likely due to his inaction. It’s hard to predict whether his handling of this situation will win him back the respect of the American people, but it might already be too late.
Attorney General Eric Holder has begun a criminal probe into the incident. BP has, after all, broken several laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Water Pollution Act of 1990, the Migratory Bird Treaty and the Endangered Species Act. Just look at the mess they’ve created. Their negligence alone is a criminal act, and measures should have been in place to prevent or better contain a disaster of this sort. The bottom line is that BP is responsible for this disaster, and they will have to pay up.
It will be impossible to put a dollar amount on the devastation this event has created. One thing we can count on is that it will take decades to recover from this disaster, and the once beautiful Gulf coast will likely never be the same again.