April 20 will mark 10 years since the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history. In a report released today, Oceana examines the cause and impacts of the catastrophe; how those impacts are still being felt today; and whether the disaster changed the government and industry’s approach to offshore drilling. In January 2018, President Trump proposed to expand offshore drilling to nearly all U.S. waters. Today, efforts are still underway to determine where drilling will occur in the future.
“Offshore drilling is still as dirty and dangerous as it was 10 years ago,” said Diane Hoskins, Oceana campaign director. “If anything, another disaster is more likely today as the oil industry drills deeper and farther offshore. Instead of learning lessons from the BP disaster, President Trump is proposing to radically expand offshore drilling, while dismantling the few protections put in place as a result of the catastrophic blowout.”
Following the 2010 explosion that killed 11 rig workers, oil gushed from the seafloor for 87 days and more than 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf. Oil killed tens of thousands of birds, sea turtles, dolphins and fish and washed up on 1,300 miles of shoreline, from Texas to Florida. Despite removal efforts, as much as 60 million gallons of oil remained in the environment.
Oceana’s report shows that decades of poor safety culture and inadequate government oversight laid the conditions for the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. A decade later, the report outlines that these conditions have not improved and that expanding this industry to new areas puts human health and the environment at risk. Before the coronavirus pandemic, fishing, tourism and recreation in East and West Coast states supported more than 2.6 million jobs and contributed nearly $180 billion in GDP.
“When they drill, they spill. The BP disaster devastated the Gulf, and we cannot afford to repeat it. Protecting our environment has never been more important than it is today. President Trump’s plan is still a preventable disaster if we stand together to protect our coasts,” Hoskins said.
Oceana found the Gulf Coast suffered significant economic losses following the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
“The BP oil spill was probably one of the single most horrific events of my career,” Innisfree Hotels founder Julian MacQueen — who operates hotels from Pensacola, Florida, to Orange Beach, Alabama — told Oceana.
The spill and oil removal efforts also had immediate and long-term health impacts on coastal communities. Communities of color, in particular, faced negative impacts from the disaster, including economic hardships and greater possible exposure to oil spill waste.
“They failed our people,” Clarice Friloux, who worked as the outreach coordinator for the United Houma Nation at the time of the spill, told Oceana. “At one point, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this could kill off the whole generation of Native Americans living off the coast of Louisiana.’”
The disaster also harmed marine life. Scientists who have studied the spill described large swaths of the ocean floor near the site of the well as a toxic waste dump, devoid of the kinds of life that are typically found there.
“It was an entire Gulf of Mexico-wide event,” Nova Southeastern University Professor Tracey Sutton told Oceana. “Nobody was ready for this scale of pollution. As far as we know, the actual impact of the spill is not over yet.”
Oceana found the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf was unprecedented:
Oceana says the dangers of offshore oil drilling are not limited to massive disasters like the BP Deepwater Horizon, and that spills can happen during every phase of the process, including exploration, production, transportation and use. As of 2016, there were 2,165 offshore platforms and more than 26,000 miles of pipeline in the Gulf — more than enough to circle the Earth.
“Once the oil industry gets anchored in an area, then there's no going back. So, why even start?” Cyn Sarthou, executive director of environmental policy organization Healthy Gulf, told Oceana.
Given the risks, policymakers, business owners and communities along the Atlantic, Pacific and Florida’s gulf coast are opposing the expansion of offshore drilling.
For Oceana’s full report and stories from frontline communities, coastal business owners and Gulf researchers, please visit oceana.org/hindsight2020.