Royal Dutch Shell's offshore drilling operations were pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, ultimately releasing nearly 90,000 gallons of oil into the water off the Louisiana coast.
"We have allowed the [Gulf] to be perpetually treated as a sacrifice zone—a place where we tolerate pollution and disasters to continue our dependence on fossil fuels."—Michael Brune, Sierra Club
The company said the spill was spotted above an underwater pipeline system, although specific details regarding the leak's cause were not made public.
The spill left a 13- by 2-mile sheen on the water, NBC reports. While the company assured reporters and government agencies that wells in the area had been shut off and the spill was being contained, local observers expressed deep skepticism.
"What we usually see in oil industry accidents like this is a gross understatement of the amount released and an immediate assurance that everything is under control, even if it's not," said Anne Rolfes, founding director of anti-offshore drilling group the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "This spill shows why there is a new and vibrant movement in the Gulf of Mexico for no new drilling."
Locals opposed to offshore drilling argue that oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico have become tragically commonplace. "According to the federal National Response Center, the oil industry has thousands of accidents in the Gulf of Mexico every year," the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said.
This latest disaster occurred mere weeks after the six-year anniversary of BP's catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf and on the very same day that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a hearing on the agency's next Five Year Plan for the Gulf of Mexico.
Thursday's BOEM hearing focused on the environmental impact statement of oil drilling in the Gulf. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade reported that locals discovered and collected tarballs in the Gulf's Grand Isle last month—demonstrating that "BOEM's environmental impact assessment is inadequate."
"It's unacceptable that oil spills have been permitted to become the status quo in the Gulf," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune in response to this latest disaster. "From Deepwater Horizon to the Taylor Well to Shell's latest disaster, we have allowed the region to be perpetually treated as a sacrifice zone—a place where we tolerate pollution and disasters to continue our dependence on fossil fuels."
Activists nationwide are urging President Obama to put a stop to all oil and gas leases in the Gulf to prevent such disasters from continuing.
"This practice must end now," Brune said. "Hundreds of thousands of people have mobilized across the country, and thousands more will march in Washington, D.C. this Sunday calling for President Obama to protect our waters and coastal communities from offshore drilling."