Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks, you’ve probably heard that BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig is now far below the horizon — a mile underwater, in fact. The broken pipeline has been vomiting 200,000 gallons of oil every day since the rig exploded just before Earth Day. The nonprofit firm SkyTruth puts the estimate at 850,000 gallons a day, 6 million gallons total, as of April 29. An oceanography professor from Florida State University estimates an even higher leakage rate.
If the leak continues, it could quickly eclipse Exxon-Valdez accident of 1989, which is considered one of North America’s worst environmental disasters. On Friday, BP managed to lower a 100-ton dome over the leak but failed to stem the gush of oil. While BP ponders their next move, millions of gallons of oil are drifting toward the Gulf Coast, threatening dolphins, sea turtles, whales, manatees, fish — and, yes, humans. UPDATE: As of May 9, golf ball-sized lumps of tar — “strongly suspected” to be from the oil spill — are washing up on Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama coast.
Many of us have been wondering what caused the Gulf oil spill. The AP reported the suspected cause of the Gulf oil spill (more details here):
The deadly blowout of an oil rig in theGulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP’s internal investigation.
Judging by the information available now, this seems like a problem that could have been prepared for. But if BP was aware of any danger, they gave no sign of concern. In fact, several execs were on board the rig, celebrating the project’s safety record at the time of the explosion.
While reading Grist’s articles, I noticed a few facts that are worrying, whether or not they have a connection to the April disaster.
- The Interior Department exempted BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig from a detailed environmental impact analysis, according to a story by Juliet Eilperin. The decision was based on three reviews by the Minerals Management Service, one of which concluded that “a large oil spill” from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels.
- Political contributions are old news, save for one surprise: The top recipient of BP funds was Barack Obama, if you combine his presidential and Senate campaigns. The other major donations — ranging from $19,500 to $73,300 — went to oil industry supporters in Congress (full list here).
- The blowout preventers that that failed to stop the Gulf blast have had an unreliable track record, ever since federal regulators weakened testing requirements in the late 1990s (at the request and praise of industry officials). The HuffPost has more.
- The rig lacked a $500,000 acoustic safety device that is required by Norway and Brazil. Congress considered mandating it, but the industry fought off this and other regulations.
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