The Deepwater Horizon explosion

Fire boats battle a fire at the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 21, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

(Photo: U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images)

13 Years After BP Disaster, Oceana Urges Biden to Block New Offshore Drilling

A report from the ocean conservation organization details how the president can still keep a key campaign promise.

Thursday will mark the 13th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in which a BP drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and hundreds of thousands of animals. The disaster, one of the worst environmental catastrophes in U.S. history, was an object lesson in the dangers of fossil fuels.

Despite this, President Joe Biden has so far violated his campaign promise to stop further offshore oil and gas drilling, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—regardless of its status as the most important U.S. climate legislation to date—actually mandates its expansion.

"It's as if we learned nothing from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster," Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins said in a statement. "We know that when oil companies drill, they spill. It's not a matter of if there will be another spill, but when. And those spills bring immediate economic and environmental devastation to our coastal communities."

That's why Oceana released a new report Tuesday outlining how Biden can make good on his promise after 2024 without contradicting the terms of the IRA. The report, A Simple Solution: How President Biden Can Meet Offshore Clean Energy Goals and Prevent New Offshore Drilling, comes weeks after the latest update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that emissions from already existing fossil fuel infrastructure could blow through the carbon budget for limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, while planned expansion added on top could push the Earth above 2°C.

"President Biden has the responsibility to ensure his administration advances the policies needed to meet the ambitious and necessary climate goals of the United States," the Oceana report authors wrote.

How can he do this? The IRA put up three major stumbling blocks. First, it required the federal government to lease at least 60 million acres of public waters for oil and gas drilling the year before any new offshore wind lease sales. Second, it mandated that 1.7 million acres in the Gulf be leased for oil and gas despite a court ruling that the sale was backed by an insufficient environmental impact statement. Third, it set deadlines for additional lease sales in Alaska and the Gulf for 2022 and 2023.

However, Biden can still honor his campaign promise for 2024 and beyond through his administration's proposed five-year plan for oil and gas drilling , the final draft of which is expected this coming September. The initial proposed program, released last July, floated various options for lease sales for 2023-28, from zero to 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and potentially one in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Oceana hopes the final proposal will stick with zero.

"President Biden has a window now—where he can both abide by the Inflation Reduction Act and honor his campaign commitment—by issuing a five-year plan that includes no new offshore oil and gas leases," Hoskins said.

In addition, Oceana said that the Biden administration could exceed its goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 without additional oil and gas lease sales, since the sales already planned for 2022 and 2023 would allow offshore wind leasing to proceed through much of 2024. The group further called on Congress to pass legislation reversing the IRA stipulation tying offshore wind development to oil and gas and on Biden to permanently protect more vulnerable coastal areas from offshore drilling by using his powers under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

There are many arguments in favor of banning offshore oil and gas drilling from 2024. As the Deepwater Horizon spill proved, it's incredibly dangerous, killing an average of three workers a year. It contributes to the climate crisis: A recent study found that methane emissions from Gulf drilling were double previous estimates and that stopping its spread and boosting the renewable energy transition would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 6.9 billion tons a year by 2050. In the U.S. alone, preventing new drilling in federal waters could keep more than 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere, which is almost three times more than what the nation emits each year.

"Every new offshore well drilled is another BP Deepwater Horizon disaster waiting to happen."

Then there are the local impacts. The Deepwater Horizon spill spewed 200 millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf and polluted 1,300 miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida. This devastated ecosystems and human communities, triggering the Gulf's largest-known die-off of marine mammals and costing the seafood industry nearly $1 billion. As is common for environmental disasters, the impacts disproportionately harmed marginalized communities. Around 50 million pounds of oil waste from the cleanup—approximately half of the total—were dumped into communities of color.

The spill's legacy persists today in destroyed wetlands and 60 million lingering gallons of oil. And it's only one incident. Between 2010 and 2020, the oil industry averaged nearly two spills per day.

"Every new offshore well drilled is another BP Deepwater Horizon disaster waiting to happen," the Oceana report authors wrote. "Continuing to expand oil and gas development is reckless and irresponsible."

It's also unpopular. A poll released today by coalition Protect Our Coast found that 50% of voters support a ban on new offshore drilling and two-thirds prefer the government prioritize wind and solar developments over oil and gas drilling.

"The data makes clear that American voters prefer expanding clean energy over expanding offshore oil and gas drilling," Lake Research Partners President Celinda Lake said in a statement. "From the Gulf Coast to the eastern seaboard, most voters want to prevent more offshore drilling and protect our coasts from the impacts it has on coastal communities, marine life, and seafood fishing. The Administration can strongly appeal to young people and Democrats by taking action to prevent new offshore oil and gas drilling."

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