Experts Warn: US 'on Course to Repeat' BP Gulf Disaster

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Common Dreams

Experts Warn: US 'on Course to Repeat' BP Gulf Disaster

"The risk of another blowout is real," write former MMS head Elizabether Birnbaum, Oceana's Jacqueline Savitz

BP's Deepwater Horizon rig ablaze on April 21, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

BP's Deepwater Horizon rig ablaze on April 21, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. is "on a course to repeat our mistakes" and face another oil disaster like BP’s Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, two experts warn.

The chilling cautionary words are given by former offshore drilling regulator Elizabeth Birnbaum and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at conservation organization Oceana, in op-ed published in the New York Times days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the epic oil catastrophe.

Birnbaum was head of Minerals Management Service at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but in a move seen by some as "scapegoat firing" was ousted from the position weeks after the well began to spew oil into the Gulf. She is now a consultant at SEB Strategies.

Birnbaum and Savitz write that the Obama administration has yet to act on recommendations which could make offshore drilling safer.

"We would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like this from happening again. But, four years later, the Obama administration still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes," they write.

One the remaining threats Birnbaum and Savitz highlight has to do with blowout preventers, a point outlined in a "detailed and damning" December 2011 report of the National Academy of Engineering. The report found fault with the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer, and indicated that that same equipment "may be present" at other drilling operations. Yet new standards for blowout preventers have yet to be enforced, deepwater drilling continues, and new drilling leases in the Gulf are issued each year.

"The risk of another blowout is real," they write.

Rather than scale back drilling, oceans face another assault with the administration's proposal to allow the use of seismic air guns for oil exploration along the Atlantic coast, which Oceana has warned could amount to "death sentence" for marine mammals.

"We have seen this pattern before. The expansion of drilling into deeper water and farther from shore was not coupled with advances in spill prevention and response," Birnbaum and Savitz write in their op-ed.

This captures the 'risk addiction' award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein described in her TED talk delivered months after the Macondo well blowout. Klein said that "even more striking than the ferocious power emanating from that well was the recklessness with which that power was unleashed — the carelessness, the lack of planning that characterized the operation from drilling to clean-up."

"If there is one thing BP's watery improv act made clear, it is that, as a culture, we have become far too willing to gamble with things that are precious and irreplaceable, and to do so without a back-up plan, without an exit strategy," Klein continued.

That reckless gamble is all too real for the wildlife in the Gulf still suffering and community members still awaiting compensation for the catastrophe that is far from over.

"The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010," stated Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. "Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And, ensure that this never happens again."

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