The Deepwater Horizon oil spill: one year later

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by British Petroleum, exploded off the Louisiana coast one year ago this week. The blast killed 11 crew members and released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and was the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Yesterday, on the one year anniversary of the disaster, BP and its partners filed more than 100 billion dollars in lawsuits against Transocean Ltd., Halliburton and Cameron International, three of the main contractors it partnered with on the Gulf oil rig. BP singled out Halliburton, accusing it of concealing critical information which could have prevented the disaster. But Antonia Juhasz, director of energy program at Global Exchange and author of the book Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill, believes that events of the BP annual shareholders conference in London (from which she just returned), are a better indicator of the problems surrounding deep water drilling. At the conference, Juhasz emphasized that the, “Oil had not gone away, their problems had not gone away, and BP had not lived up to their financial or legal, or even moral obligations in the gulf coast.”

Though all shareholders were welcome at the conference, a delegation of Gulf Coast residents that were directly harmed by the oil spill were denied access to the meeting, which included members of the Louisiana Shrimp Association and Louisiana Oyster Task Force. Juhasz decided to protest their exclusion by reading some of the words of Keith Jones, whose son Gordon had died aboard the the Deepwater Horizon:”BP sacrificed my son’s life for greed. And cut corners, and cut cost, and rolled the dice with the lives of the people on the rig, and they lost. And Gordon lost his life.”

Juhasz describes BP’s mindset as “we’re not changing our ways and we’re moving forward,” and believes that their annual report should not have been accepted “because it did not demonstrate that the company has changed their ways,” specifically citing their Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005. Juhasz says that though a response to the Texas City explosion was to put in new management and safety structures, such structures have not been implemented, and a continued emphasis on cutting costs “while pushing risks” led to the Deepwater horizon disaster.

Speaking of the political ramifications, Juhasz believes that “the middle ground that the Obama administration is trying to strike is between safety and the oil industries interests.” But the damage that has been done environmentally has yet to be fully determined; Dr. Samantha Joye, a marine scientist who has been studying the oil damage up to 80 miles away from the site, has found that it is the bottom of the ocean that has received the most damage. Not enough testing has been done, however, to know how the spill will impact animal and plant life long-term, not to mention the combined affect of oil and dispersant in seafood over the coming generations.

Ultimately, the goal of oil companies like BP is to continue deep water drilling. There are 148 deep water drilling sites active now, but the regulations controlling them were drafted 50 years ago for shallow water drilling (a difference of 5000 to 400 feet). Additionally, Juhasz believes that arguments focused on drilling as a means to support local economies are weak. In Louisiana, for example, drilling accounts for only 8 percent of the GDP, and the oil that is drilled does not necessarily stay in the United States. “Transitioning away from these operations” needs to be the focus, Juhasz said.

Listen to the full interview on WBEZ Radio.