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October 6, 2020

Dirty and dangerous offshore drilling pollutes our ocean and coastal communities

U.S. Coast Guard

In addition to an ever-present threat of another large drilling disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon, offshore drilling produces dirty and dangerous waste every day.

Chronic pollution from oil drilling hurts plants, animals and people

Oil drilling pollutes our waters, land and air. In addition to catastrophic disasters, hundreds of oil spills occur each year and can happen during every phase of offshore drilling from exploration to transportation and refinement. And aside from these toxic spills, the oil industry creates dangerous waste through its daily operations. More than 18 billion barrels of waste fluids are generated annually from oil and gas production in the United States. Oil drilling platforms, pipelines and refineries also create air pollution that threatens human health and contributes to climate change. Offshore platforms release methane pollution, a greenhouse gas 25 times as potent as cardon dioxide emissions.

Oil and gas production generates radioactive sludge and polluted wastewater that is hazardous to the workers tending it and nearby residents. Without proper disposal, the waste can contaminate people’s drinking water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the risks to people working or living near a disposal site include radiation, inhalation of contaminated dust, contaminated well water or contaminated food. 

Pollution from the BP Deepwater Horizon devastated the Gulf of Mexico

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster showed how much devastation can arise from one catastrophic blowout. Toxic oil polluted 1,300 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline, from Texas to Florida. The disaster killed plants and animals and shut down fishing for months. Despite all the removal efforts, as much as 60 million gallons of oil remained in the environment.

Responders removed about 100 million pounds of oiled waste after the disaster. For decades, toxic waste dumps have been disproportionately placed in communities of color and this injustice continued following the Deepwater Horizon. In 2010, Texas Southern University Professor Robert D. Bullard analyzed BP’s waste records finding BP dumped more than half of the waste in communities of color. 

The expansion of offshore drilling threatens our coasts

Coastal communities rely on the ocean for food, jobs and recreation. Offshore drilling pollutes our waters and threatens the health of people and wildlife. For the continued success of coastal economies, we must stop the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling and focus on the much-needed transition to clean energy.

This is the ninth piece in an Oceana series looking back at the repercussions of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. To learn more, see Oceana’s report Hindsight 2020: Lessons We Cannot Ignore from the BP Disaster. 

Explore other key moments in the series: Read about current efforts to stop the expansion of offshore drilling, BP’s failed attempts to stop gushing oil with junk, what happened when oil reached Florida’s beaches and how BP’s cleanup response fell short. Learn more about how whales and dolphins of the Gulf are still recovering and how the well was finally cappedRead about how hurricanes and offshore drilling are a dangerous combination.