Ocean Currents » oil spill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 17 Jan 2017 16:12:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Remembering the Victims and Survivors of Deepwater Horizon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/01/remembering-the-victims-and-survivors-of-deepwater-horizon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/01/remembering-the-victims-and-survivors-of-deepwater-horizon/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 13:20:37 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13040

Like many Gulf Coast people, I too had a loved one working on an oil rig the day the Deepwater Horizon exploded. In his first job with the oil industry, my stepdad was working IT on a rig. My mom and I had been glad he got the job as he had been laid off during the recession, but that day I was frantic. Stuck on an airplane when I heard the news, I wracked my brain: What rig was he on? Was he okay? It was two, painful hours before we landed, and I could finally call my mom.

Luckily, my stepdad was safe. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But that day in 2010, I’m sure tens of thousands of families went through the same worry, wondering if their loved ones were safe.

For many of us, then, the new movie Deepwater Horizon, which chronicles the last few hours aboard the rig, may be hard to watch. The movie creates an overwhelming sense of fear, anger and frustration as cement tests are ignored, pressure tests are misread and concerns over the integrity of the oil well are overlooked for the sake of staying on schedule.

The film points to the oil and gas industry’s overall lack of commitment to safety as the root cause of the disaster, just as the National Oil Spill Commission found in their 2011 report to the President. In the movie, before the first explosion even happens, we see that the phones don’t work, fire alarms need new batteries and even the air conditioning is going out. Mark Wahlberg, portraying chief electronic technician Mike Williams, calls out this climate of risk when he tells BP well site leader Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich, that it seems BP is “running out of gas while landing the plane.” The Deepwater Horizon was behind schedule, and BP was intent on finishing the job quickly so the rig could move onto another well site.

Once the blowout occurs, chaos ensues because the rig crew was not properly trained on how to respond to such a disaster. Captain Curt Kuchta screams at dynamic positioning officer Andrea Fleytas for sounding a distress signal. Transocean rig boss Jimmy Harrell is half-blinded in the first explosion by falling insulation and glass and struggles to regain command of his rig. Ultimately, Vidrine, along with his partner Robert Kaluza, were both charged with 22 counts of manslaughter, all of which were eventually dropped. In real life, many feel that Vidrine and Kaluza were simply the fall guys for BP as the key decisions that led to the disaster ultimately came from their bosses in Houston. The movie emphasizes this sentiment by portraying Vidrine as a vulgar character, a symbol of BP’s negligence. But where Vidrine and Kaluza were found at fault, 11 heroic men had worked furiously to try to prevent the disaster.

Movie director Peter Berg said during a National Public Radio interview that one of his motivations for making the movie was to recognize their dedication in the face of danger. It’s no coincidence that most of the 11 men who died were members of the drilling crew. “They stayed at their workstations,” Berg told NPR, “when they could have jumped off the rig onto the lifeboats. They stayed on the rig and attempted very hard and courageously to try and prevent that blowout. And they died trying to prevent it.”

Eleven families lost a loved one that day. But we know it could have been a loved one from any of tens of thousands of families. Six years later, as we work to restore the Gulf from the BP oil disaster, it’s important that we keep this loss as part of our  perspective. Because even though we now have an opportunity to make the Gulf even healthier than it was in 2010, we paid a dear price for this chance. We owe it to the victims and survivors of the disaster to get Gulf restoration right.

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Shell Spills 88,000 Gallons of Oil in Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/13/shell-spills-88000-gallons-of-oil-in-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/13/shell-spills-88000-gallons-of-oil-in-gulf/#comments Sat, 14 May 2016 01:16:06 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12067

Today, the Coast Guard reported that Shell’s Brutus oil platform, about 90 miles off the coast of Louisiana, has spilled more than 80,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This is a bad week for Shell—just Monday, Shell gave up most of its oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. Although it is too early to know the extent of environmental damage from the Shell spill, we do know that the Gulf of Mexico is still damaged from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster six years ago.

Thankfully, the leak has been secured, and clean-up efforts are underway, as a result of NOAA and the Coast Guard’s immediate response. There are 52,000 boreholes drilled into the Gulfseafloor, the result of a century-old search for oil and gas. Much of the time, offshore oil production proceeds relatively safely and without much public interest, but when things go wrong in the Gulf of Mexico, they can really go wrong.

As soon as the news broke last night, my news feed was filled with rhetoric from two extremes: those who say that drilling is an economic imperative and a matter of national security, no matter the cost, and those who say that all drilling must stop now, no matter what.

But that cannot be the singular focus when the risk associated with oil and gas exploration and drilling is something that the people who make their homes in the Gulf region grapple with every day. The Gulf is a complex place and the undeniable reality is that thousands of people rely on it for their livelihood.

For our ocean and the people that rely on it, we can and should do better in the Gulf–and other places where drilling occurs.

Here are a few places to start:

1. Better monitoring

Our Charting the Gulf report revealed that that Gulf’s offshore wildlife and habitats are not monitored to the same degree as those in the coastal areas. This monitoring is vital for species like bottlenose dolphins, which will likely need 40-50 years to fully recover from the BP oil disaster, along with deep-water corals, which could need hundreds of years to improve.

2. Commitment to restoring the Gulf beyond the shore

This new spill is one of a long list of stressors on the Gulf’s wildlife and habitats in the open ocean. BP has paid $1 billion to restore the open ocean, but the future of the deep waters of the Gulf is anything but secure. We must hold our Gulf leaders accountable and restore the Gulf’s deep sea, where the BP oil disaster began and where other spills are likely to occur.

3. Better response planning and risk assessment

The BP oil disaster taught us many lessons about the risks associated with oil drilling in the Gulf, especially the lack of updated response technology. We must apply these lessons to not just the Gulf, but in all areas where drilling and shipping pose a critical risk for our ocean.

I’m proud to live and work in the Gulf. While we tend to make national headlines when there’s been a disaster, the Gulf is beautiful, resilient and is on the path to recovery – as long as we stay committed and work together.

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Beyond BP: Restoring Our Gulf of Mexico in the Era of Climate Change http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/20/beyond-bp-restoring-our-gulf-of-mexico-in-the-era-of-climate-change/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/20/beyond-bp-restoring-our-gulf-of-mexico-in-the-era-of-climate-change/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:27:25 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11951

Photo: NOAA

The future of the Gulf is being shaped everyday. Six years after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which took the lives of 11 workers, the grand experiment in the Gulf of Mexico continues to unfold in a unique crucible of complex science and complicated politics.

Over $25 billion in settlements finalized from BP and other parties is earmarked for environmental and economic recovery in the Gulf . While it not nearly enough to fully restore the Gulf, if invested wisely, it is enough to catalyze a transformation in working with nature to enable coastal communities to thrive.

The Gulf of Mexico became an immense emergency room during the hours, days and weeks following the explosion on April 20, 2010. Unprepared for the previously unthinkable worst case, first responders triaged the situation with the controversial use of dispersants applied a mile below the sea’s surface. Scientists grappled with the appallingly large knowledge gaps about the Gulf environment and how it would respond to a huge volume of oil. Across the coast, we rallied with coastal communities to respond to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, straining the capacity of our nation’s disaster response system.

Six years on, we recognize a unique opportunity born from tragedy that is much bigger than the Gulf itself. It is the nation’s first real test case for whether and how we can best restore natural resources at a scale large enough to slow or even reverse the rate of environmental decline. Many places around the country and the globe struggle with environmental degradation exacerbated by development, loss of ecological connectivity and function, and the expected impacts of sea level rise. These places can benefit from the hard lessons we have learned in the Gulf.

By using the restoration funds as a down payment on the larger goal of ecosystem resilience, the Gulf can serve as an example to others grappling with climate change and restoration. This funding represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for ecosystem restoration in a region that has suffered decades of degradation without major federal investments, earning it the name “the national sacrifice zone.” The reality is that 31 states across the U.S. send their pollution downstream into the Gulf, including “dead zone”-causing pollution from farms in the Midwest. Yet the Gulf provides a large part of the seafood we eat, as well as the oil and gas we use. For all that we as a nation rely on the Gulf, we fail to invest the resources to fix it.

The Gulf of Mexico is now on course, for better or worse, to be the leading example of restoring a large ecosystem and the resulting economies that are based on often conflicting uses. However, our needs in the Gulf of Mexico, like many other regions of the world, far outstrip the available resources. We will have to work smarter rather than harder, and adopt a creative and innovative approach to defining the problem and implementing the solution. For ecosystem restoration to fulfill its promise as a key component of responding to climate change, we need a far more comprehensive approach to designing, funding and implementing restoration.

As restoration work gets underway in the Gulf, a number of guiding principles are critically important in driving the successful investment of billions of dollars. Some of these lessons are being learned the hard way, as state and federal officials grapple with requirements to think comprehensively while being responsive to both local needs and political pressures.

These principles include: transparency and public engagement, the consolidation of multiple restoration activities under one governing body, restoration objectives that take into account the anticipated impacts of climate change, fostering a culture of innovation and adaptation, and recognizing that restoration must be coupled with better policy decisions around development and extractive activities. Collectively, these efforts represent a replicable, scalable structure that can be adapted to restoration efforts in different ecosystems and management frameworks.

If the previous century was characterized by the loss of habitat and ecosystem services that communities rely on to thrive, then the next must be defined by a commitment to working with nature. This partnership will restore ecological functions, stabilize our fisheries and our shorelines and help us adapt to a changing climate.

This journey can and should start in the Gulf of Mexico.

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What We Know Now About the BP Oil Disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 20:00:14 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11026

It takes 635 pages to describe exactly how the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster impacted the Gulf ecosystem. This is what the Trustees released in the “Injury to Natural Resources” chapter of the Draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (which totals over 1,400 pages), a plan that will guide the spending for a over $7 billion of the $20.8 billion settlement with BP.

We know that not everyone has the time to peruse hundreds of pages of information, so Ocean Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation partnered to summarize what we now know about impacts. This summary is based on five years of government research, which recently became available when the details of the BP settlement were released last month.

The numbers in the report are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds died, and many more were exposed to oil. Trillions of larval fish and invertebrates were killed by BP oil discharged into Gulf waters. An area 20 times the size of Manhattan around the now-plugged wellhead is polluted by oil. Deep-water corals, some of them hundreds of years old, were killed. In addition, due to the challenge of measuring the impact to some animals and places, the Trustees describe many of their conclusions as underestimates. What we do know is that the oil disaster affected the entire northern Gulf ecosystem, and the long-term effects are still unknown.

Long-lived or slow-growing animals that were impacted by the BP oil disaster will likely take decades to recover. For example, spinner dolphins are estimated to need 105 years to recover, and slow-growing deep-water corals may take hundreds of years. In light of this, it is essential that restoration is paired with continued long-term monitoring and research to track these animals and habitats to understand if they are on the path to recovery, and to reassess our restoration activities if they are not responding to our efforts.

More than five years have passed since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and as we look back to better understand the magnitude of this environmental disaster, we must also remember to look forward. In addition to identifying the extent of ecosystem injury, the Trustees also recommend a comprehensive suite of restoration approaches to move the Gulf toward recovery.

Learn more about how you can shape this process for the next 18 years.

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Victory in the Gulf: BP Finally Pays Up http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/victory-in-the-gulf-bp-finally-pays-up/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/victory-in-the-gulf-bp-finally-pays-up/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:24:57 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10369

Five years ago today, oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig was still gushing unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, impacting countless wildlife, oiling shorelines and devastating coastal communities from Texas to Florida. Shortly after the disaster occurred, both President Obama and BP promised to restore the Gulf of Mexico, and today marks the single biggest step forward in restoring the Gulf.

Today BP and the five Gulf states have agreed to an unprecedented $18.7 billion settlement to resolve the outstanding fines that BP still owes for damaging the Gulf. While details are still emerging, here are some of the highlights:

  • $5.5 billion to resolve Clean Water Act civil penalties, with some portion of that money being directed to each of the five Gulf states. This includes approximately $1.3 billion that will go to the RESTORE Council to implement comprehensive restoration from Texas to Florida, from the coast to the blue water. Read more about the RESTORE Act and restoration here.
  • $8.1 billion (including $1 billion down payment BP already provided for early restoration) to resolve natural resource damages that are directly related to the impacts of the oil disaster. We are particularly pleased to see that this allocation includes $1.24 billion for projects in the open ocean! This means that we will be able to restore impacts beyond the shore, where the disaster began and where we continue to learn about troubling impacts to fish, corals and dolphins.
  • $350 million to continue assessing the damage caused by the disaster.
  • Finally, $5 billion will go to the Gulf states to resolve economic claims.

One of Ocean Conservancy’s key concerns is that our government leaders are able to address long-term impacts from the disaster that we might not know about today. We are pleased to see a dedicated restoration reserve to address injuries documented after the settlement agreement. We know from other oil spills that understanding the full impacts to wildlife and habitats can take decades to fully understand, and we need to make sure we have money set aside to address impacts if and when they emerge.

After five years of work from Ocean Conservancy’s staff and our many partners, we are relieved to see one chapter of our Gulf restoration work end and a new one begin. One thing is clear: there is still a lot of work to be done, and it will take all of us working together to ensure that all of this money is spent in  the spirit it was intended and in a way that honors the lives that were lost in the tragic events of April 20, 2010. It’s time to get down to the business of restoring the Gulf and create a legacy that we can all be proud of.

Thank you for all you have done to help protect the Gulf of Mexico, a national treasure and my home.

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Santa Barbara Oil Spill Jeopardizes the Golden Beaches of Our Golden State http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/santa-barbara-oil-spill-jeopardizes-the-golden-beaches-of-our-golden-state/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/santa-barbara-oil-spill-jeopardizes-the-golden-beaches-of-our-golden-state/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 14:31:14 +0000 Greg Helms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10245

When oil began flowing from a ruptured pipeline along the wild and scenic shoreline up the coast from Santa Barbara, California, the community’s coastal life flashed before its eyes:  thriving fisheries, popular and pristine beaches, teeming populations of whales and marine mammals, and a new network of protected areas set up to safeguard these coastal treasures.  The awful images of oiled beaches and sea life are appearing on our screens at a time when visitors are flocking to the coast for Memorial Day weekend.

Recreational and commercial fishing have been ordered closed in the wake of the spill. Fishing grounds along the rural coast west of Santa Barbara support a good deal of the harvest of some of California’s highest-value fisheries. Spiny lobster, red sea urchin and market squid are harvested along this coastline, and are among the top five commercial fisheries in California, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of fish and providing healthy seafood for local and distant consumers. Recreational fishermen ply these waters for calico bass, white seabass and halibut while enjoying the scenic surroundings and spending dollars locally. Surfers, scuba divers, beachgoers and whale watchers explore, play and spend in even greater numbers.

All these groups recently worked together tirelessly to set up marine protected areas (MPAs) – despite sometimes intense differences – to protect special places along this coast and to sustain the health of the entire California coastline. Two of the new MPAs, enacted in 2012, are within ten miles of Tuesday’s oil spill and stand threatened by the expanding oil slick. Four MPAs are along the 30 mile coast surrounding the oil spill. Among them, Naples Reef State Marine Conservation Area is a regionally unique pinnacle reef system packed with fish, lobster, anemones, and healthy kelp forests. Next closest to the spill is the Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area, established to protect and celebrate the coastal culture practiced by Chumash Indians for millennia. These sites are now at risk of damage from this spill.

Oil and gas development has been active along this coast for decades. About 20 oil platforms pump oil offshore and several more rigs operate along this sensitive and productive shore. Though we are told technology has improved since the massive Platform A blowout in 1969, when three million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean, we notice a steady pattern of oil spills, releases and accidents. The pipeline that ruptured Monday was installed to improve safety in replacing a large industrial oil processing facility nearby. Yet today we are seeing blackened beaches and oiled wildlife. Are we properly balancing the value of energy production with the value of clean beaches, fishing, recreation and coastal views?

We know oil and water don’t mix, so it’s crucial to carefully look at the trade-offs between offshore oil and protecting fish, fisheries and beaches. We want to keep the Golden State golden.  

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The Evidence Mounts: Another Study Links Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf to BP http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/the-evidence-mounts-another-study-links-dolphin-deaths-in-the-gulf-to-bp/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/the-evidence-mounts-another-study-links-dolphin-deaths-in-the-gulf-to-bp/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 12:30:38 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10239

Yesterday, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new results from a series of studies in which they have investigated the unusually high number of dolphin deaths occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2010, scientists have conducted autopsies on dead dolphins to try and understand why they are dying.

They found significantly higher numbers of dolphins with severe lung disease and lesions on their adrenal glands in oiled areas than in non-oiled areas. Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson described the adrenal disease as forcing dolphins to precariously balance on a ledge which cold temperatures, pregnancy and infection can push them off, resulting in death. The lesions observed in dolphins were “some of the most severe lung lesions ever seen in wild dolphins throughout the U.S.” according to lead Pathologist, Dr. Katie Colegrove. NOAA is decisive in concluding that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster caused the dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf: “The timing, location, and nature of the detected lesions support that contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused these lesions and contributed to the high numbers of dolphin deaths within this oil spill’s footprint.”

These new findings are backed up by earlier studies. One publication reported dolphins in Barataria Bay had symptoms consistent with petroleum exposure that were threatening their survival. Another study analyzed where and when dolphins were stranding, and found areas contaminated with oil in 2010 and 2011 also had the highest numbers of dolphin deaths.

As researchers continue to publish the results of studies, we will further understand the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. We will also begin to understand if impacted animals and places are recovering. Bob Spies, former chief scientist for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, recently said “If we care enough to understand impacts, I hope we care enough to understand recovery.” This reminds me that understanding the impacts is only the first step in restoring the Gulf. The people who live in the Gulf will rely on it throughout their lifetimes, and long-term research and environmental monitoring will provide us with the tools we need to continue to not only hold BP accountable, but also restore the Gulf.

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