Posted by: euzoia | May 1, 2010

No more oil on troubled waters

| Kate Sheppard | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

When President Barack Obama announced his offshore expansion plan last month, he called for drilling “in ways that protect communities and protect coastlines”. But as we’ve seen with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon off the coast of Louisiana last week, oil and gas drilling is still far from safe for workers or the environment.

The blast likely claimed the lives of 11 workers, and the remains of the rig are now gushing 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day. It comes just weeks after Obama outlined his plans to open vast new swaths of America’s coastline to drilling, a concession to oil industries in hopes of advancing the administration’s bigger plans on climate and energy this year. But despite assurances from the Obama administration that drilling can be done in a responsible manner, the explosion should affirm that our continued reliance on fossil fuels is far from safe and environmentally sound.

The massive spill already covers 1,800 square miles, and is rapidly encroaching on the shoreline. It’s expected to reach land by Saturday, where it will wreak havoc on coastal ecosystems, including both the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Breton National Wildlife Refuge. The situation has gotten so desperate that coastguard officials are considering setting the slick on fire to prevent it from reaching ecologically sensitive areas. If nothing is done to stop it, this “could be one of the most serious oil spills in US history,” said one coastguard official on Tuesday.

While the explosion marks the worst oil rig disaster in decades, oil accidents aren’t all that rare, despite continued claims from the industry and supporters that drilling can be done in a “safe, environmentally friendly” way. Take BP’s safety record; in 2005, an explosion at the company’s Texas City Refinery killed 15 workers and injured 170 others. Following the explosion, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied a fine of $87m against BP for safety violations last year, a record for the agency (topping the previous record of $21m, also set by BP).

Nor are spills that uncommon. The US department of energy estimates that 1.3 million gallons of crude are spilled into our waters each year, but a major accident can double that figure in any given year. The Gulf spill is on path to exceed that this week alone.


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