Gulf Oil Spill Likely to be Worst in U.S. History
Photo: marinephotobank/Flickr (CC)
The recent tragic loss of life at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia highlighted the dangerous cost of our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, and offered cause to consider emerging energy sources like clean nuclear power. Now yet another fossil fuel disaster has rocked the U.S., and it’s unlikely to settle down any time soon.
On April 20 Deepwater Horizon, a massive oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was rocked by a series of explosions that literally blew workers out of their beds. Two days later the rig sank and the broken well began pouring 1,000 to 5,000 barrels of oil out into the ocean daily.
Attempts to perform controlled burns on the spill have been largely unsuccessful and the oil has spread out across close to 4,000 miles as of Friday. It is currently on the shores of Louisiana.
In terms of ecological damage the spill is a nightmare. As the spill bears down on Louisiana, hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast are considered at high risk. Louisiana is home to some of the richest coastal wildlife in the U.S., including four species of endangered sea turtle, dolphins, porpoises and whales. That life is able to survive in the face of mighty hurricanes, but it’s uncertain whether it will be able to fully recover from the folly of man.
Even if you care little about the environmental impact, the spill is an economic disaster as well. The fishing industry, so vital to the Gulf Coast economy, is reeling from the spill, which threatens its stocks. And the tourism business is also suffering.
Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, the company that leased the rig and used its oil blames the rig owners, “The responsibility for safety on the drilling rig is Transocean. It is their rig, their equipment, their people, their systems, their safety processes. We will deal with these issues in the fullness of time. today we’re focusing on the response. But as I’ve said, the systems’ processes on a drilling rig are the accountability of the drilling rig company.”
The question of responsibility may become a serious one as over 11 workers from the rig are missing, and likely dead. The family members who suffered this tragic loss and the rig survivors, many of whom were injured, are reportedly preparing suits against both BP and Transocean.
BP is already paying $6M USD a day to try to contain the spill and will have to spend $100M USD to drill a relief well to stop the flow of oil. Estimates are that it will cost $700M USD to replace the rig.
The spill is the worst oil disaster in the gulf since the blowout and oil spill of the Ixtoc I in 1979. It is estimated that within 50 days it will pass the worst oil spill in U.S. history — the 11 million gallons that leaked from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. And the relief valve may not be finished for as long 90 days — roughly three months.
Earlier this month President Obama called for new oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf Coast. The enormous cost in life, money, and ecological damage of the Deepwater Horizon disaster begs the question — is it really wise for our nation to continue to pursue the dangerous strategy of oil expansion, when nuclear could give us an affordable, clean, safe, and environmentally friendly solution to all our nation’s energy problems?