WASHINGTON, April 28, 2015 − Five years ago this month, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico caused a major oil spill, killing 11 people on the rig and gushing millions of gallons of oil into the ocean. The country watched with increasing apprehension as oil continued to pour from the underwater well for weeks as crews struggled valiantly to find a way to cap it.
The immediate impact on the gulf was significant, seriously damaging the underwater and, eventually, the onshore environment. Making matters still worse, the economic impact of the ongoing spill was quickly and keenly felt by whose livelihoods, such as fishing and shrimping, depended on the health of the gulf environment.
Any online search of the term “devastating oil spill” still yields a long list of hysterical media reports on the disaster, including recent retrospectives. The earlier stories in particular are dominated by reports claiming−largely without supporting evidence−that the Gulf of Mexico was now permanently closed for business. By November 2010, CNN was reporting that the oil spill would permeate through the entire food chain.
The uncritically accepted narrative, flatly asserting that this oil spill would forever damage the local economy and wildlife, soon became widespread. The tone of press coverage at the time was truly apocalyptic. However, five years after the spill, those doomsday predictions somehow have not come to fruition.
The Gulf of Mexico and the people who call it home have made an impressive comeback. Government data show that fish “catch levels” in the gulf bounced back to an 11-year high in 2011 and have held firm since. That’s a far cry from the “permanent end” to the seafood industry that CBS news proclaimed in 2010. To the contrary, fisherman are now catching more fish in the gulf than they have in 30 years.
The tourism industry, which advocacy groups claimed would be irreparably damaged by up to $23 million in losses, has bounced back as well. In point of fact, the damage incurred by every gulf-related industry appears to have been short term in nature. In Alabama specifically, tax revenues initially dipped in the aftermath of the spill. Yet they quickly rebounded the following year. The state’s tourism industry, in particular, has seen four very strong years since the spill was contained.
The majority of the millions of gallons that spilled into the gulf appears to have evaporated and naturally dispersed into the ocean or to have been consumed by microbes, which many studies have shown played a key role in cleaning up the water in areas contiguous to the spill. In August 2010, four months after the spill, nearly 3/4 of the oil from the well had been either collected or dispersed.
The animal population, both underwater and on shore, certainly suffered gravely before the spill was fully contained. The loss of life that affected birds, dolphins, fish and countless other species was serious. However, the wildlife population proved far more resilient than early apocalyptic reports had been asserting.
For example, the Audobon Society stated that the oil spill could be the final straw that would drive Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, to extinction. Today, much like the area’s fish population, the brown pelican population is just as strong as it was four years ago.
It’s a little-known fact that natural oil seeps on the ocean floor release roughly the same amount of oil as as six Exxon Valdez spills every year. When we place the situation in the Gulf of Mexico in its accurate historical context, the BP oil spill is truly an outlier. Thousands of oil rigs operate in this country every single day with no detrimental impact on the environment. Hundreds of off-shore platforms operate in the gulf 24 hours a day every day. When you factor in just how big the Gulf of Mexico is, the BP oil spill was literally a drop in the bucket.
“Picture your neighbor’s pool. Unless you live in Malibu, it’ll contain about 6,000 gallons. That’s the “Gulf” for purposes of discussion. Now go to your garage, get a quart of oil and pour it in when he’s not looking. Pretty good sense of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, right? Nope, not even close. Put a drop of that oil onto a sheet of paper and carefully cut it in half. Now do it again and toss that quarter of a drop into the deep end. Even this quarter droplet (about the size of the comma in this sentence) is about 10% too large, but NOW you have a sense of what 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf looks like.” – Peter Schwennesen
Since the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP, by almost all accounts, has done a phenomenal job of putting its money where its corporate mouth is, energetically working to clean up the substantial pollution it and its contractors had allowed to happen. The ensuing cleanup efforts were massive and took almost four years to complete.
In total, BP has spent more than $28 billion in cleanup costs and legal fees. They have also helped make a significant investment in the gulf’s tourism industry, including helping to build a new, $58 million dollar hotel.
Looking back on the coverage of the Deepwater Horizon spill, words like “disaster” and “devastating” were tossed around way too often by the media, whose clear intent was to cover the story in a way that would further the political agenda of environmentalists and fossil fuel foes who regard as an article of faith that off-shore drilling is an imminent threat to the health of the planet. Even if there is still some doubt as to whether the gulf has made a 100 percent recovery, there is currently no question that it is currently recovering at an astonishing rate.
The BP oil spill − and its aftermath − are a true testament to the resilience of nature. Oil spills are clearly bad for the environment, and every precaution should be taken to avoid them. But that does not mean that spills are the norm in deep sea drilling, and it certainly doesn’t mean that drilling, along with the hundreds of thousands jobs and significant economic benefits that come with it, should be threatened.
The moral to the BP oil spill story is that nature is a lot stronger and more resilient than we give it credit for. We should all, of course, be aware of the capability we have to damage the environment. But calling for the shutdown of the entire oil industry because of one tragic accident − advocated at the time of the spill by many left-leaning activist groups − is not the solution.Click here for reuse options!
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