Almost 5 years after the BP spill riveted everyone's attention on the risks of offshore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, we're still relying almost entirely on pollution reports submitted to the government by the polluters themselves who are, of course, subject to fines and other sanctions for those spills. Evidence of non-reporting and chronic under-reporting of oil spills was uncovered by our 2012 analysis of NRC reports and comparison with satellite imagery, an analysis recently validated in a peer-reviewed study published by scientists at Florida State University.SkyTruth has also mapped every spill since 2010 that they know of. It's a lot.
Most of the time, very large spills can go on for years and years with little or no attention paid. Every now and then something truly spectacular like the Macondo event will happen. The horrific deaths of 11 people in an explosion followed by months of uncontrolled release of petrochemicals is harder to ignore.
At least, while it's happening it is, anyway. Afterward, we go right back to business as usual.
But critics say energy companies haven’t developed the corresponding safety measures to prevent another disaster or contain one if it happens — a sign, environmentalists say, that the lessons of BP’s spill were short-lived.Despite all the caterwauling about "economic survival" in the face of a "job killing" moratorium, we're now drilling deeper, riskier, and more wells than we were in 2010.
These new depths and larger reservoirs could exacerbate a blowout like what happened at the Macondo well. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil could spill each day, and the response would be slowed as the equipment to deal with it — skimmers, boom, submarines, containment stacks — is shipped 100 miles or more from shore.
Since the Macondo disaster, which sent at least 134 million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf five years ago Monday, federal agencies have approved about two dozen next-generation, ultra-deep wells.
The number of deepwater drilling rigs has increased, too, from 35 at the time of the Macondo blowout to 48 last month, according to data from IHS Energy, a Houston company that collects industry statistics.
Meanwhile, Louisiana's fragile coastal marshes and barrier islands are devastated, our fisheries are in a state of ruin, researchers are finding the damage to undersea ecosystems is even greater than previously understood. And, of course, another Macondo could happen any day. But that's supposedly a good thing because the real story we're supposed to be telling here is about "resilience." Or, at least, that's what Norman Francis would say.